In his short story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe employs his skills in description to give readers a definition impression of the Usher home and how it matches the psyches of its occupants, the Usher siblings.
After the narrator describes the gloomy and dilapidated exterior of the house, he enters to find that the interior contains a strange realm that is no longer connected to ordinary life.
First, the narrator enters through “the Gothic archway of the hall,” thus crossing the threshold into another world. The Gothic style of architecture was developed in the medieval era, and this detail indicates the narrator has symbolically gone back in time, away from contemporary life. The architectural detail also reflects Roderick Usher’s obsession with the past, which is referenced again with his performance of the song “The Haunted Palace.”
The valet who greets the narrator is “of stealthy step” and silently leads the narrator “through many dark and intricate passages” to Usher’s room. The valet’s lack of verbal communication and his knowledge of the way through the darkness and complexity of the home’s interior suggest a guide through a labyrinth, evoking a reference from Greek mythology of the hero Theseus entering the labyrinth to confront the Minotaur, a creature that is the result of a family secret.
As the narrator follows the valet, he continues to receive disturbing glimpses of the house that match the impressions of its exterior. He refers to
the somber tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness of the floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode…
Even though the narrator asserts that he is “accustomed” to such sights, he still makes a point of mentioning them and wondering about their effect. The adjective “phantasmagoric,” suggesting the unreal or illusory, comes up again when the narrator uses the word to describe one of Roderick’s paintings.
On a staircase, the narrator encounters the family physician, whose face wears “a mingled expression of low cunning and perplexity” and who accosts the narrator “with trepidation.” The doctor in this capacity functions as a type of threshold guardian, a figure in mythology who challenges the courage of the hero.
The narrator moves on and follows the valet into Roderick Usher’s room. He finds his friend reclining on a couch in a room made strange by “feeble gleams of encrimsoned light” and with furniture that is “comfortless, antique, and tattered.” Above all other impressions, the narrator relates,
I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.
From that point on, the events in the house of Usher match its dark, gloomy, and otherworldly presence.