Figurative language appeals to readers' senses (imagery, alliteration, onomatopoeia) and/or uses words to create significant nonliteral meanings (allusions, metaphors, similes, analogies) to add depth, interest, insight, and impact to texts. Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Fall of the House of Usher" is filled with figurative language. Let's look at some examples.
We find vivid imagery in the very first paragraph when we read "the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens." The sensory details and near-personification of the clouds help us picture the weather and also sets a dark tone for the story. A few lines later, the narrator uses a common but still effective simile in his description of the house: "vacant eye-like windows." He continues with a metaphor as he speaks of his state of mind. He compares his "utter depression of soul" to "the after-dream of the reveller upon opium" and the "hideous dropping off of the veil." He seems to be sinking into a state of gloom and terrifying reality as if he were coming down off the high of a drug.
A bit later, when the narrator is examining the exterior of the house, he once again uses metaphor, noting that the structure's stones remind him of "old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air." We also notice some foreshadowing in his comparison, for a vault will play an important role in the story later on.
When the narrator first sees Roderick Usher, he again uses metaphor and simile to describe his old friend. Usher exhibits a "cadaverousness of complexion." His hair is "web-like" in "softness and tenuity" with a "wild gossamer texture." This figurative language helps us picture Usher much better than if the narrator had merely said that he was extremely pale and had fine, fluffy hair.
As the story progresses, the narrator describes his time with Usher and the diversions they share. He remarks, however, that "an excited and highly distempered ideality threw a sulphureous lustre over all." There is something uneasy, disordered, almost hellish ("sulphureous" points to this latter idea) about the entire experience.
In the poem at the center of the story, we discover a range of figurative language, including reference to a palace that rears its head, the "monarch Thought's dominion," and "gentle air" that dallies (personification); a "winged odor" (metaphor and imagery); "a lute's well-tuned law" (alliteration and metaphor); and "Echoes" (an allusion to Greek mythology).
As the story draws to its horrifying close, the narrator offers us a detailed description of the vault in which Madeline Usher's body is placed, appealing to all our senses. We can see the copper on the walls, hear the "sharp, grating sound" of the door, and almost smell or taste the remnants of the "highly combustible substance" once stored there.
Then on the seventh or eighth day after Madeline's entombment, the narrator lies awake in his room. "Sleep came not near my couch," he explains, personifying sleep. He vividly describes the strange whirlwind, again appealing to readers' senses with images like "huge masses of agitate vapor" and the "life-like velocity" of the winds that "flew careening from all points against each other." The narrator reads to Usher in an attempt to calm his friend, but the story's sounds actually echo throughout the house (a delightfully spooky device). Finally, the narrator flees in terror after witnessing the fall of the House of Usher on two levels: the house itself and the family within.