The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

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The Fall of the House of Usher Analysis

Plot analysis

“The Fall of the House of Usher” follows a traditional story arc with conflict, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. The opening scene of the narrator riding up to an old and ominous house foreshadows the darkness to come. The main conflict that drives the story is the narrator’s coming to help Roderick recover from an illness. Action rises with Madeline's apparent death and Roderick's descent into madness over his fears about the house being sentient. The raging storm, Madeline’s rising from the dead, and her subsequent collapse onto Roderick, which kills them both, acts as the climax. Action falls when the narrator flees the house and watches it sink into the tarn. Because Poe intentionally leaves the story without a lesson, the only resolution is the sight of the tarn and the realization that neither the family nor the house will ever be seen again.

Point of view

Poe tells the story through a first-person narrator who recounts the events as he remembers them. Thus the point of view is important to analyze when studying “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The fallibility of the narrator’s memory and his lack of confidence in the supernatural things he sees cast the events of the story into question. Readers cannot be certain of what is true and what is skewed by time and imagination. The narrator employs his ability to reason, explaining potentially supernatural events with logic, but as the story goes on, terror floods his analytical mind. The corruption of the rational narrator creates more uncertainty around whether or not the events are supernatural or merely products of the narrator’s isolation and madness. The unreliable narrator destabilizes the story. The lack of a definitive answer as to what happened leaves readers to decide if the story’s events are the result of madness or supernatural forces—or both.

Setting

Poe does not specify the story’s location or time period. This makes it possible for the story to take place in a variety of settings. This lack of specificity makes the story engaging, because it allows readers to fill in details for themselves and insert themselves into the narrator’s story telling. However, Poe does carefully control the mood by setting the story in a desolate countryside in autumn. The story takes place entirely in and around a gloomy mansion, adding to the feeling of isolation and sense of entrapment.

Symbolism

After arriving at the House of Usher, the narrator makes a direct comparison between the house and the family itself. The mansion acts as a symbol of the once great Usher family that has fallen to ruin. The house is isolated and cut off from the outside world just like the Usher siblings. As the house decays, so do the Ushers and their mental state. The decrepit interior reflects the state of mind of both Roderick and Madeline as isolation eats away at their sanity. The house eventually sinks into the tarn, signifying the end of the Usher line. The symbolism of the house and the family highlight the fact that all things decay.

The narrator also acts as a symbol of both rationality and a bridge to the outside world for the Usher siblings. The narrator thinks critically about fear and its causes from the first time he sees the house. He attempts to determine what specifically about the house makes him uneasy and recognizes that he what he fears could be the result of his imagination. However, the longer the narrator stays in the house, the more fear overcomes him, showing that fear and imagination often overcome rationality. Although doctors come and go to monitor Roderick’s and Madeline’s health, the narrator is their main connection to the outside world. Roderick’s letter asking the narrator to come cheer him up demonstrates that the doctors’ presence does not ease his isolation. Since the narrator is a symbol of rationality, he also then represents Roderick’s connection to sanity. The speaker’s final flight from the house...

(The entire section is 5,485 words.)