What figurative language is used in ''The Fall of the House of Usher''?
Throughout the short story "The Fall of the House of Usher," Edgar Allan Poe uses figurative language to describe the environment and events of the story as well as emphasize various characteristics of the home and its objects and tenants. Poe incorporates a literary device known as personification throughout the story.
Personification occurs when an inanimate object is given human attributes. While the unnamed narrator is commenting on the various activities that he participated in to cheer up Roderick Usher, Poe writes,
"We painted and read together, or I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild improvisations of his speaking guitar" (11).
The guitar is personified when it is given the human quality of speech. Poe also incorporates the literary device known as hyperbole throughout the short story. Hyperbole is an exaggeration that is used to add emphasis to whatever the narrator is addressing. When the unnamed narrator describes the mournful songs that Roderick sings, he says,
"His long improvised dirges will ring forever in my ears" (Poe 11).
Commenting that the dirges will "forever" play in his ears is hyperbole. The narrator is exaggerating the lasting impact that Roderick's mournful songs will have on him by stating that they will last "forever."
The narrator uses a metaphor to describe the "utter depression of soul" that he feels when he looks at the home and its environs. He compares this depression to "the after-dream of the reveller upon opium." A metaphor is a comparison of two unalike things where the speaker says that one thing is another. This comparison emphasized the deadening feeling he gets just by looking at the house. He also says that he felt an "iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart." This is another metaphor where the speaker compares the feeling of dread, of foreboding, to being cold. His heart is not actually getting colder or sinking down.
When the narrator describes the letter he received from his old friend, Roderick Usher, he describes the request for him to visit and "the apparent heart that went with his request . . . " This line employs a figure of speech called metonymy: when the writer replaces a detail associated with a thing for the thing itself. In this case, what the narrator means is that the request was made with so much feeling, and since we associate feelings with the heart (however erroneously), heart can replace feeling for emphasis and remain understandable.
You might like to look at the ending for an excellent example of figurative langauge that Poe employs to help convey the horror and terrror in this excellent story. Let us remember that figurative language takes the form of comparing one thing to something else, either through use of a simile, a metaphor, or personification. As the narrator flees the house and turns back, note how a simile is used to describe the sound of the House of Usher as it, like its owners, meets its end:
...there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters--and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the "House of Usher."
Note how the supernatural end of the mansion is stressed through the comparison of the sound it makes in its final moments to the "voice of a thousand waters." Hopefully this example will help you go back and spot and analyse other examples of figurative language in this excellent short story. What, for example, is suggested by the windows of the house being described as "eye-like" as the narrator first looks upon the House of Usher?