The Fall of the House of Usher Questions and Answers
by Edgar Allan Poe

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How does imagination overcome reason in "The Fall of the House of Usher" and create fear?

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Nate Currier eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There have already been a couple answers commenting on the interplay between imagination and reason in “The Fall of the House of Usher” within the narrator, who is also the point of view character. Poe’s short story also plays upon the imaginations of the reader.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” seems to be a parable, or an allegory. What the allegory is for, is open to debate. But the way Poe designs this story to take root in the imagination rather than the logical realist world is by inching the story toward a supernatural zone early. Take, for example, the story’s first appearance of Madeline Usher—the enigmatic twin sister of Roderick. The first time Poe introduces Madeline, she immediately comes across as a spectral phenomenon:

While he spoke, the lady Madeline (for so was she called) passed slowly through a remote portion of the apartment, and, without having noticed my presence, disappeared. I regarded her with an utter astonishment not unmingled with dread--and yet I...

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The imagination of Roderick, the lone surviving heir in the titular house from Poe's work, gnaws at him and begins to overtake his sane mind. Initially a relatively reasonable young man, he becomes consumed by fear, allowing the most ridiculous situations to play themselves out in his mind and drive him mad.

First, Roderick believes his house to be turning into a living thing. His isolation in this house and his preoccupation with his deceased relatively have led him to cling to the house as his only source of companionship and comfort. Roderick slowly grows fearful and suspicious of everything around him - worrying that his sister, who is recently deceased, may have survived her illness and has been interred prematurely.

Eventually, trying to calm his companion, the narrator reads the tale of a knight slaying a dragon to Roderick. This tale begins to echo in the house - with the sounds of swords and clanging shields, as well as the screams of a dragon, piercing the stillness of the night. In reality, the house is quaking and crumbling around them - but Roderick's imagination creates such vivid imagery that he believes it to be the dragon.

Eventually, the hectic events and terror drive the narrator from the house, where it was revealed that Roderick's sister had, in fact, been alive still. The terror that drove the narrator away, however, also saved his life, as the house crumbled and sunk into the tarn after he fled.