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The Fall of the House of Usher

by Edgar Allan Poe

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How does Edgar Allan Poe use the supernatural to create neurosis in "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

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In "The Fall of the House of Usher," Edgar Allan Poe uses supernatural elements as manifestations of Roderick's deteriorating mental state, driving him towards neurosis. The eerie sounds and the belief that his sister has been buried alive are all figments of Roderick's imagination, reflecting his descent into madness. Additionally, the dramatic and neurotic narration preceding the supernatural events, such as Madeline's bloody emergence from the crypt and the house's collapse, make these occurrences seem plausible, further amplifying Roderick's neurosis.

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In the story "The Fall of the House of Usher," Poe employs the supernatural as a figment of Roderick's imagination to show his crumbling sanity. The main character's behavior is increasingly neurotic and erratic, and as he starts to succumb to his perception of supernatural events, he begins to act worse and worse.

As he is reading a story in his house at one point, ominous and mysterious sounds begin to present themselves to his ears. This is all a figment of his mind, but he believes the supernatural cacophony is occurring in reality around him. Eventually, he comes to believe that his sister has been buried alive, and when it is revealed that he is correct, through some mysterious happenstance, she attacks him and they fall down dead. The narrator at this point flees the scene, which collapses behind him. The supernatural elements create a state of mysticism and confusion that drive Roderick mad.

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The two distinctly supernatural elements in this short story are Madeline's bloody emergence from the crypt and the collapse of the physical house of Usher into the tarn on the death of Roderick and Madeline.

I would turn the question around to say that the neurosis narration that precedes these two dramatic ending events is what makes them seem plausible to us. There is a dramatic buildup that emerges from Roderick's neurosis or deeply nervous and acutely sensitive personality that prepares us for what is to come.

Roderick's nervousness when the narrator first arrives seems disproportionate to any reality. His sister is dying, but beyond that, there seems to be no reason for him to be as highly strung as he is. He is acutely sensitive to light, acutely sensitive to sound, can bear only certain kinds of art, and seems intensely on edge. This primes the reader to wonder what he knows or intuits of a supernatural quality that we don't. By the time we do encounter the supernatural, Roderick's neuroses have strongly foreshadowed the denouement: his neurotic premonitions and forebodings seem now to have been justified. The narrator seems to believe this as he flees the house: he is not going to wait around and see if things will normalize. Like him, we know they will not.

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The narrator in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" is presented initially to the reader as a very rational man. As with most of Poe's narrators, he speaks with an elevated diction in order to gain the trust of the reader, coming across as someone who is mentally stable and capable of reason. When he first comes to the house, he notices many of its oddities from the outside, as well as the distressing impact they have on his demeanor; however, he seeks to explain this effect through logical means, considering how "there are combinations of very simple natural objects" that have such perplexing effects on people. 

In order to create a truly neurotic narrator, however, Poe continues to elaborate on the oddities of the house, imbuing it with seemingly supernatural qualities and even powers that continue to grate on the narrator's mind. The most prominent example occurs after his head has been filled with all of Roderick's suspicions about the house being alive. He begins to read Roderick a story in order to calm his nerves. As he reads the story, he notices strange noises that correspond to the descriptions in the story he is reading. He ignores them at first, but eventually they become so prominent that he accepts them as inexplicably real sensations. The more he reads, the more neurotic he becomes as he must forsake his rational and scientific mindset in order to come to grips with the reality he is experiencing.

Eventually this reaches fever pitch when Roderick admits that he believes they have mistakenly buried his sister alive. When his sister is revealed to still be alive, and she attacks Roderick, the narrator can no longer reckon with the events he is witnessing. He runs out of the house as it, along with his own mental stability, crumbles in his wake. 

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How did Edgar Allan Poe use imagination in "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

Imagination is central to Poe's story. First, the reader is invited to engage in Roderick Usher's insistence that his home is a living and evil organism:

He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for many years, he had never ventured forth -- in regard to an influence whose supposititious force was conveyed in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated -- an influence which some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion, had, by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit -- an effect which the physique of the gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked down, had, at length, brought about upon the morale of his existence.

In other words, the house itself has developed an oppressive personality that is making Roderick sick. Roderick imagines that inanimate objects, like the house, are alive:

This opinion, in its general form, was that of the sentience of all vegetable things.

Second, Roderick himself is overly affected by his imagination, such this his nerves and senses are on edge from a "nervous" affection that: 

displayed itself in a host of unnatural sensations. Some of these, as he detailed them, interested and bewildered me; although, perhaps, the terms, and the general manner of the narration had their weight. He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odours of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.

Third, the reader is asked to "suspend disbelief" in accepting that Madeline clawed her way out of her tomb and her crypt. 

Finally, the story poses the question: is Madeline real or a projection or figment of Roderick's fevered imagination? The story critiques imagination run amok in wild and perverse ways, as represented by Roderick, yet pulls us in as readers with its powerfully imagined setting and consistent atmosphere of brooding oppression. 

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How does Edgar Allan Poe successfully create an atmosphere of suspense and horror with a hint of supernatural in his short story "The Fall of The House of Usher"?

The choice of language and symbolism used in the story is carefully crafted to contribute to the effect Poe wanted to convey.

The descriptive language paints a picture of a house that is beyond merely old and dirty. Features are portrayed in great detail, with repeated adjectives adding layer upon layer of age and deterioration to the picture. The setting in which the house is found extends the atmosphere of gloom and death and apprehension of unpleasant events in the past, present and future.

The description of the characters in the story, including the house as a character in its own right, support the introduction of the supernatural feel to the story. The house appears to the narrator as being associated more with decay and death than with the world of the living. The introduction of the lady Madeline into the story immediately creates the impression that she does not appear or move like a normal person would.

As the story progresses, the presence of supernatural phenomenon becomes stronger, as implied by the visions and sounds that come to the characters and as symbolized in the storm and the rising from the "dead" of Madeline.

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How does Edgar Allan Poe use the supernatural in his short story "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

The narrator feels nothing but dread as he approaches the house that he says has "eyelike windows."  The entire time he is either near or in the house, he feels as though the house has a mind of its own.

There was a constant gloom that hung about him as he stayed with Roderick.  Then a spectral image of his sister Madeline past through the room.  The narrator then finds out that she had already died.  The scene with her coming for Roderick and collapsing on him is also supernatural.  At the end the house collapses within itself and disappears into nothing.  These are all supernatural aspects.

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