illustration of a dark, menacing cracked house with large, red eyes looking through the windows

The Fall of the House of Usher

by Edgar Allan Poe
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What are 5 examples of gothic elements in "The Fall of the House of Usher"? 

One element that characterizes American Gothic literature is the intersection of the rational and the irrational. The story's narrator is the voice of reason; he comes to the House of Usher because his old acquaintance has indicated that he's having some difficulties, and the narrator believes it is his duty to help. The narrator realizes that Roderick looks very weak and sickly, and he soon recognizes that events within the house are hard to reconcile with rational behavior. One is the return of Madeline Usher from what seems to him to be death, since he helps to entomb her. Another element of gothicism is the confrontation of guilt.

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One element that characterizes American Gothic literature is the intersection of the rational and the irrational. The story's narrator is the voice of reason; he comes to the House of Usher because his old acquaintance has indicated that he's having some difficulties, and the narrator believes it is...

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One element that characterizes American Gothic literature is the intersection of the rational and the irrational. The story's narrator is the voice of reason; he comes to the House of Usher because his old acquaintance has indicated that he's having some difficulties, and the narrator believes it is his duty to help. The narrator realizes that Roderick looks very weak and sickly, and he soon recognizes that events within the house are hard to reconcile with rational behavior. One is the return of Madeline Usher from what seems to him to be death, since he helps to entomb her.

Another element of gothicism is the confrontation of guilt. Roderick Usher knows that the incest that his family has long engaged in is problematic, yet it is apparent that he and his sister Madeline are heir to the behavior. It is possible that he entombs her to bring to an end the family's curse of inbreeding over which he apparently feels immense guilt.

Madness is a theme often explored in gothic literature, and Roderick Usher's mental state suggests that he has become seriously destabilized. It may be the genetic result of his ancestors' incest, it may be a result of the isolation in which he and his sister have been living, or it may be those things and other causes. Regardless, he suffers distorted thinking and sensations that he describes to the narrator. His senses, for example, are hyper-attuned to the point of pain.

Writers of Gothic narratives often employ the setting of the forbidding-looking or haunted house, and the physical structure of the House of Usher aligns with that idea. The narrator describes it as being surrounded by vegetation that he imagines to be sentient, and its windows are described as eyelike.

A final element of gothicism often involves death. The narrator assists Roderick in entombing his sister because he believes that she has died. She eventually claws her way out of the crypt and, in doing so, causes her brother's and her own death when she confronts him.

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Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most accomplished and best known Gothic writers. Gothic texts typically involve the supernatural, mystery, and strange characters and settings. Poe is excellent at creating the dark, foreboding mood that often characterizes Gothic literature. In one of his most famous stories, "The Fall of the House of Usher," Poe incorporates several of the qualities we expect to see in Gothic literature.

1. Death and decay: The setting of "The Fall of the House of Usher" is epitomized by its death and decay. The old Usher house and the surrounding environs are "dull, dark," "bleak," "shadowy," and "insufferable." The speaker calls the house a "mansion of gloom." The Usher siblings themselves are also subject to decay, especially Madeline, who is afflicted with an illness and is presumed dead at one point in the story. The house eventually crumbles and the siblings are killed in the midst of the house's demise. 

2. Strange and mysterious characters: Roderick and Madeline Usher are an odd pair. The story heavily implies that they, as is there entire family line, are products of insect, which may explain their physical problems and personality quirks. Roderick is described as excessively nervous and superstitious. Madeline has a disease that features "a gradual wasting away of the person" and symptoms that mimic death. Their relationship is also quite strange, as they seem to have a psychic connection. Roderick ends up burying Madeline prematurely, and the scene when she emerges from the grave and walks toward Roderick is one of the most horrific in all of Poe's tales.

3. Isolation: The Usher home itself is isolated, and its inhabitants do not interact with the outside world at all. It is unusual that Roderick invites the narrator to the home at all. The isolation seems to exacerbate the eccentricity and subsequent decay of the family name and home. 

4. Intense emotional reactions and/or madness: We see in Gothic literature and especially in Poe's stories the psychological deterioration of characters. Often narrators or other characters descend into madness. In this story it is not the narrator but his old friend Roderick who goes insane. As I said previously, Roderick is already nervous and superstitious, but Madeline's declining health seems to put him over the edge. His actions become increasingly erratic, until he eventually buries his sister alive. 

5. The supernatural: In many Gothic works, writers scare their characters and readers with supposedly supernatural phenomena only to later reveal the actual, reasonable explanations for seemingly strange events. "The Fall of the House of Usher" includes the premature burial of Madeline. However, at first, she appears to be actually dead. So when the narrator hears strange noises in the night and she emerges at the end of the story, it may seem like she is a ghost and then later that she has returned from the dead. It turns out that she was not dead and was merely trying to get out of the tomb. 

Again, Poe's stories are usually Gothic in style, and "The Fall of the House of Usher" is no exception. The strange story of the Usher siblings and their demise includes many of the elements typical of the Gothic genre. 

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