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 the three diminishing places the narrator described?

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In the Gothic short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allen Poe recounts the demise of the Usher family when the last two remaining members, siblings Roderick and Madeline, descend into madness and ultimately, death. To underscore the decline of the family, Poe artfully describes the deterioration of several locations during the story.

Poe begins hinting at their demise by describing they dying landscape.

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country…I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down --but with a shudder even more thrilling than before --upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems.

The story is set in autumn, they “dying” time of the year, when the glory of the summer blooms fade to the bleakness of winter. Poe makes sure we get his meaning by using many words to paint the picture of the fading landscape including “dull,” “oppressively low” clouds, “lurid tarn” and “ghastly tree-stems.”

The author continues his verbal illustration of decay with his description of the house itself.

…with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit…Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones…Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.

The house is as depressing as the landscape. The stones that the house was made of were old and discolored, and little mushrooms covered the exterior of the building. At first glance, the house looked structurally sound, but after closer inspection, one could see a small crack running from the roof to the foundation, hinting at its impending collapse. This description also foreshadows the end of the Usher family when Poe unites the house and the family in his narrative.

…the quaint and equivocal appellation of the "House of Usher"—an appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion.

Poe adds a third reference to decay in “The Haunted Palace,” a song Roderick sings during the narrator’s stay with him. The rhyme begins with a description of a thriving, happy home.

In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
Once fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought's dominion—
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.

The house is lovely and is described as a seat of knowledge and wisdom. But by the time he gets to Stanza 5, the second to the last stanza, the house has fallen to ruin.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch's high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And, round about his home, the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

This house is a dim memorial to its former glory and intellectual brilliance. It is fast approaching the end of its life, as we are soon to find out will be happening to Roderick. The song serves as foreshadowing of the final disposition of the House of Usher, both the edifice and the family.

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