That The Narrator In Edgar Allan Poe’s “the Fall Of The House Of Usher” Finds Himself Becoming Affected By Usher’s Condition Is Significant In What Way?
In "The Fall of the House of Usher," why is it significant that the narrator is affected by Usher's condition?
The role of the narrator in Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Fall of the House of Usher" is that of observer more than an active participant. A childhood friend of Roderick Usher, the narrator serves to comment on the setting and on the state of Roderick’s condition. It is the narrator’s observations, however, that convey the sense of dread that permeates Poe’s story of a family’s final descent into madness and destruction. Note, for example, in the following passage the narrator’s description of the Usher estate, the “House of Usher” to which he is arriving in response to Roderick’s letter:
“With the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. . . . I looked upon the scene before me. . . with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the opium den. . . there was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart”
Poe’s narrator, as noted, is an old friend of Roderick Usher whom Roderick has not seen in many years. He ventures on horseback a considerable distance to come to Roderick’s aid. It is the narrator’s unattractive descriptions of the House of Usher that set the stage for the horrors that will follow. The narrator’s unrelenting negativity concerning his new surroundings inform the reader that this journey will likely not end well. His reference to “this mansion of gloom” and subsequent descriptions of both the interior of the Usher house and the condition of Roderick convey a sense of doom and gloom. Indeed, the narrator references the letter from Roderick that propelled him on this journey by noting the author’s (Roderick) depressed mental state.
Throughout Poe’s story, the narrator serves to describe the scenes of torment and agony he witnesses as well as the quieter, more lucid moments when he and Roderick read from the volumes on book shelves that line walls not occupied by macabre paintings of long-dead Ushers. It is significant that the narrator is affected by Usher’s condition both because of the former’s sense of humanity and because he persists to describe the final days of Roderick and Madeline Usher.
The significance of this detail deals with the reliability of our narrator. Considering that the narrator himself has admitted to becoming "affected" by Usher's sickness, we must realize that a person isolated from the real world can become infected by the same mental "sickness" as another isolated person. There are many stories that deal with isolation leading to mental disorders. My personal favorite is The Shining, but "The Fall of the House of Usher" runs a close second. This is because from the very moment that the narrator admits his tendency towards the malady, all of his future thoughts must be questioned. This allows a reader's imagination to run wild with possibility, even to the point of wondering whether the narrator truly witnessed "the mighty walls rushing asunder" at the end. Poe was always a fan of making a reader's imagination do most of the work. What a genius of single effect!
The narrator in Edgar Poe's story The Fall of The House of Usher can be and has been seen by alot of commentators as a psychic counterpart of Usher. These psychic doubles of self and the Other are ever-present in Poe's fiction.
Seen from this angle, the narrator is like a foil to Usher's character and the whole story can then be seen as a horrific unification of the self and the Other whereby the self realizes its affinity with the Other and resultantly its own alterity. This is the crux of the kind of alienation that Poe produces in the story. The final efforts of the narrator are to flee away from the House, which is a horrid psychic space of this identification. In the fianal moments when Madeline comes back from the vault and dies, a strange madness, the seeds of which were always there in Usher's Melancholia, takes complete hold on him and it is at this point that the narrator feels horridly similar to him, in terms of the common state of extreme nervous tension, on the verge of going mad.
It shows how real it is