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The Fall of the House of Usher

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Student Question

Is Madeline Usher a ghost in "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

Quick answer:

In "The Fall of the House of Usher," it is possible that Madeline Usher is a ghost. The textual evidence most strongly suggests that she is buried alive and, before dying, returns from the grave. However, it is possible that Madeline dies and returns from death to take Roderick's life.

Expert Answers

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In Poe’s chilling story "The Fall of the House of Usher," there are at least two valid ways to interpret Madeline Usher's character. The following are two possibilities that can be supported with textual evidence.

The first—and strongest—theory is that Madeline Usher is buried alive. By this interpretation, Roderick Usher mistakenly believes that his sickly sister has died, and he and the narrator place her in the family tomb. At some point, Madeline regains consciousness and, in a feat of immense strength, forces her way out. She appears before Roderick, covered in blood, and collapses on top of him, killing them both. At the time of her entombment, the narrator describes Madeline as having a "faint blush" and a "suspiciously lingering smile,” which is one of the strongest points of evidence in adopting this interpretation. Moreover, this is Roderick’s own interpretation of events. Not long after Madeline’s burial, he begins to suspect that “we have put her living in the tomb!

The second interpretation is that Madeline Usher has returned from the dead as a ghostly figure. By this interpretation, Madeline is indeed dead when Roderick decides to bury her, and she returns in a ghostly form. The evidence for this interpretation rests on the sheer improbability of a human’s ability to survive burial and to break free from the entombment to which Madeline had been fated. The narrator describes Madeline’s opening of the “huge antique panels” as being characterized by “superhuman energy” and “the potency of a spell.” Madeline’s reasons for returning from death are not entirely clear. Perhaps she wishes for Roderick to join her in death, motivating her to rise from the grave and take his life. As further evidence for this motive, the narrator points to the powerful bond joining the two, noting that a "scarcely intelligible nature had always existed" between the twins.

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