The narrator receives a letter from his ailing old friend Roderick Usher and makes the requested journey to the Usher House. He arrives at the house and notes that the mansion is run down, as it is discolored by age, covered in fungi, and has a crack running through it from the roof down. He first encounters the family physician who appears perplexed. He then greets Roderick Usher and notices how Usher’s appearance is almost corpse-like, and that he suffers from severe nervous agitation. Usher proceeds to explain the nature of his illness, which includes an extreme sensitivity of his senses, to the narrator. Usher states that his own condition is worsened due to his concern for his sister, Madeline, who is suffering from a strange and debilitating malady that baffles her doctor. He mentions that one of her symptoms involves temporary partial paralysis. Usher explains his devastation at the thought of Madeline’s passing because it will leave him the last of the Usher race.
On the night of the narrator’s arrival, he sees only one glimpse of Madeline before her illness worsens and she is bed ridden. The narrator spends the next few days reading and painting with Usher and listening to him play his guitar, all in an attempt to buoy Usher’s spirits. Usher informs the narrator one night that Madeline has died, and that he wishes to place her in a vault downstairs until she can be buried. The narrator helps Usher place Madeline in a coffin, and they take her to the iron-doored vault. The narrator sees Madeline briefly before the coffin lid is secured, and notes both her resemblance to Roderick and the faint blush on her cheeks and smile on her lips that have been preserved in death. They secure the coffin into the vault and return upstairs.
Usher’s condition worsens as he grieves the loss of Madeline, and, over the next few days, the narrator fears Usher is going mad. The increasingly bizarre behavior of Usher and the melancholy gloom of the house begin to affect the narrator as well, and he begins to feel a sense of terror that prevents him from sleeping one night several days after Madeline’s death. The narrator begins to hear some sound from within the house, partially masked by the sounds of a storm ravaging outside. As he is pacing his floor, Usher comes in and throws open the window, letting in the violent winds and allowing the narrator to see the unnatural light from the storm. The narrator shuts the window and tries to calm Usher, and decides to read one of Usher’s favorite books to him.
As the narrator reaches the climax of the story, he hears the sound of a hollow, metallic reverberation, and jumps up. He rushes over to Usher, who proclaims that he believes the sounds are coming from Madeline’s vault, and that he has been hearing them for days. He jumps up and shouts that Madeline is standing at the door. The door opens and there stands Madeline, bloodied and fatigued from her ordeal. She begins to sway, and falls upon her brother, and they both fall to the floor dead. The narrator runs from the house in a horrified panic, and as he looks back at the house, he sees a strange light emanating from the crack, and the house collapses upon itself.
- The narrator approaches the house. We find he has received a letter asking him to come help his old friend, Roderick Usher.
- The narrator enters the house and sees Roderick. Roderick looks very sick and perhaps even a bit crazy.
- The narrator and Roderick see Roderick's sister Madeline. She is seriously ill and Roderick thinks he'll never see her alive again.
- For some days, Roderick and the narrator hang out together, reading and painting.
- Madeline dies and they place her in a vault inside the house.
- A huge storm comes up about a week later. The narrator reads to Roderick throughout. They hear weird noises that correspond to events in the story.
- Roderick says he believes Madeline wasn't really dead and is just outside the door. He opens it, she falls in on him and they both die.
- The narrator leaves the house, looks back and sees lightning split the house which falls apart and sinks under the water of a lake.