The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

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What happens in The Fall of the House of Usher?

In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” a visitor is summoned to the House of Usher by his childhood friend. Usher's sister Madeline dies, but somehow comes back from the grave. The visitor just manages to escape before the house collapses.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” summary key points:

  • Usher appears morbid and claims that the house is influencing his spirit.

  • The visitor also appears to be influenced by the house.

  • Usher’s sister Madeline dies from a mysterious illness.

  • Madeline comes back from the grave and the visitor flees the house before it collapses.

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Summary

Edgar Allen Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” was originally published in September of 1839. In the tale, the narrator visits a childhood friend who is sick and in need of company. The house is old and decrepit, and it seems to cause the madness of the last surviving Usher siblings, Roderick and Madeline. When Madeline succumbs to an illness, she is buried in a house vault, only to return after a premature burial. Madeline emerges from the vault the night of an intense storm and collapses on her brother in death. The narrator flees the house and looks back to see it sink into a swamp. Rather than convey a lesson, Poe's story explores gothic elements of the supernatural and evil to convey this tale of horror.

Plot Summary

The story opens with the narrator riding alone on a cloudy autumn day to the House of Usher. He immediately feels depression and fear when he sees the mansion. He describes a childhood friendship with the owner, Roderick Usher. Roderick had requested the narrator’s company during his convalescence from an illness. The narrator reflects on the once-great Usher family and that they have only one surviving direct line of descendants, comparing the beautiful but crumbling house to the family living inside.

After looking at the reflection of the mansion in the tarn, or small lake, in front of the estate, the narrator believes he sees a heavy mist and vapor rising from the trees and house. He then takes a closer look at the ancient mansion and sees a crack zigzagging from the roof to the foundation, where it disappears into the tarn’s shore.

After entering the house, the valet shows him to a sitting room where Roderick lies on a sofa. The two sit together in silence, and the narrator cannot believe the man beside him is Roderick, because his appearance has changed from that of a youthful boy to a gaunt, wispy-haired, and pale-skinned ghost of the man he once was.

When Roderick speaks, he states that his illness is hereditary and without cure, which causes him to have highly reactive senses. Roderick believes he will soon go insane from fear and die. He admits that he is superstitious about the house, and that its continual gloom has broken him down. Usher states that he and his sister, Madeline, are the last of the line of Usher, and that Madeline is sick with a disease the doctors cannot diagnose. Later that night, Roderick tells the narrator that she has died.

No one mentions Madeline, and Roderick spends his time painting, playing music, reading, and writing. He paints a dark underground tunnel with beams of strange light shining through. Usher writes songs on his guitar, and the narrator recounts one entitled “The Haunted Palace.” In the song a prosperous palace falls, and only dancing ghosts remain. Roderick admits he believes the Usher house is sentient and that a foul atmosphere grows from the grounds. He states that the house has moulded generations of the Usher family and has caused his current state. Roderick decides to keep his sister preserved in a house vault before moving her to the isolated family cemetery. He soon abandons his former hobbies, and the narrator observes that Roderick is beginning to lose his mind. While watching his friend’s condition deteriorate, the narrator feels himself slip into madness as well.

A week after Madeline’s death, the narrator lies awake with...

(The entire section is 2,364 words.)