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 is the tone in "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

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The tone of the story is overwrought and unrelievedly dark and fevered, reflecting the oppressive, foreboding setting and unstable, hypersensitive psyche of Roderick Usher.

As the narrator rides toward the house, he notes a sensation of melancholy and gloom which he calls

insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by...

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any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. ... the bitter lapse into every-day life—the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart—an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime.

This is an important passage, because here, (through the voice of his narrator), Poe, who is believed to have borrowed the story's opening passage from Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, is from the start setting straight any misconceptions the reader might take away from the allusion to Udolpho: the mood of the story will be relentlessly grim, not shot with the sublime like Radcliffe's novel. In the late 18th and early 19th century, the sublime was a popular form, deriving, as the narrator so well describes it, "half-pleasurable," often awe-inspiring and uplifting feelings from "desolate" or scary places. This story, Poe is signaling, will not contain any uplift, and it does not.

The unrelenting tone of darkness continues as the narrator arrives at the house. Roderick has a "ghastly pallor" and, overtaken by nerves and a sense of horror, is given to "wild improvisations" on his guitar, painting grim pictures, and working with a "wild ritual." The tone of horror grows as the story progresses to its frightening and macabre end.

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Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" falls under the genre of Romanticism, specifically within a genre of Romanticism that deals with the darker aspects of human reality: The Gothic period.

This being said, the Gothic genre's main purpose is to instill in the reader the same emotions that the characters in the story are experiencing during trying times and tribulations: Some of these feelings are nostalgia, sadness, isolation, coldness, fate versus inevitability, and overall distress.

From the beginning, we sense that our main character is about to visit a place which has become destroyed and abandoned with time. A place that is isolated, and rampaged by illness and death. This, aside from the cold atmosphere, the suspense, and the wonder of what is really going on, set the nostalgic, scary, and tone of doom in the story.

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, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.

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