“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe references one of Poe’s frequent subjects: premature burial. The story has many of the qualities of a gothic horror story.The psychological elements are pronounced particularly when the Usher twins both suffer from two different kinds of nervous afflictions, particularly the catalepsy of Madeline.
The unnamed narrator “ushers” the reader through the story. He has come to visit his old friend Roderick Usher. He catches sight of Madeline as she flits between rooms. Roderick tells the narrator that she is gravely ill. She is cataleptic which is defined as a person who has seizures and can go into a death-like trance.
Not long after this, Roderick tells his friend that Madeline died in the night. He asks the narrator to help him bury her.
Together, Roderick and the narrator carry Madeline’s coffin down to the temporary tomb. When they place the coffin in its resting place, the two men pull aside the lid and take a last look at Madeline.
The disease which had entombed the lady in the maturity of youth, had left ...the mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and the face, and a suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip which is so terrible in death.
They replace the lid and return to the house.
Both Roderick and the narrator are aware that Madeline occasionally enters trances resembling rigor mortis.The description of the supposed corpse must have given the narrator pause to wonder.
The narrator describes her smile as suspicious. Why did neither of the men pay attention to the foreshadowing of the smile or the blush on her cheeks? Roderick, in particular, should have been absolutely sure that she was dead before he buried her.
It is unclear what motive Roderick would have for attempting to murder his sister. The narrator commented that Roderick’s illness may have been due in part to his worry about his sister.
Before and after the death of Madeline, the narrator tries to help Roderick with his grief by reviving his interest in literature, and the arts. Nothing helps him.
A few days after the burial, the narrator awakes terrorized. He dresses and finds Roderick. Roderick asks if he has seen it. The narrator takes Roderick to his room and begins to read to him.
As the narrator finishes a sentence, he hears a terrible sound emanating from a remote part of the mansion a cracking and ripping sound. Strangely, he continues reading. He again hears a sound. It was a low screaming, grating sound.
The narrator tries to avoid distressing Roderick. However, Roderick heard the noise as well and moves his chair so that his face was toward the door. The narrator resumes the reading. Again, he hears a terrifying noise. He goes to Roderick whose countenance has become completely rigid.
Roderick begins to whisper softly. The narrator finally understands what he has been saying: “We have put her living in the tomb!” He stands to his feet and tells the narrator that she is standing outside the door.
Supernaturally, the doors blow open and there stands the lady in question. After awakening from her unconsciousness, Madeline had the physical power to break out of her tomb. She is covered in blood and obviously has struggled to get out of the coffin.
With a low moaning cry, she falls onto Roderick. She will take him with her. Now actually in her death struggles, Roderick, too, is dead from the terror that he had dreaded.