illustration of a dark, menacing cracked house with large, red eyes looking through the windows

The Fall of the House of Usher

by Edgar Allan Poe

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

Roderick Usher's Psychological and Emotional State in "The Fall of the House of Usher"

Summary:

Roderick Usher's psychological and emotional state in "The Fall of the House of Usher" is one of extreme anxiety and paranoia. He suffers from acute sensitivity to his surroundings, heightened nervousness, and a deep fear of his own house and family history, which contribute to his mental deterioration and eventual demise.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is Usher's problem in "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

Roderick Usher suffers from an unharmonious psychological state, described as melancholy or terror at various points. One gets the distinct impression that Roderick has been mentally unbalanced for quite some time. The story suggests that Roderick's unstable mental and emotional state is deeply connected to the grim, dilapidated family mansion in which he lives. Indeed, Roderick even tells the narrator that the house is having a negative impact on his spirit. This is unsurprising, given that Roderick has buried his sister, Madeline, within its vaults. It is clear that this loss has had a deleterious effect on Roderick's psychological state, as has his continued dwelling in a place so marked by death.

At the same time, Roderick seems neither willing nor able to leave the house. Despite the building's grim atmosphere, the Usher mansion is his ancestral home, and his mysterious malady renders many of the normal sensations of light, scent, and touch unbearable. So he stays, running the risk that his already fragile psychological condition will deteriorate even further. Ultimately, this is a problem that Roderick does not solve. Even if he somehow moved out of the house, it seems that his association with it is too powerful to sever. The problem is eventually solved by Roderick's untimely death, though it can be argued that this is not a solution at all.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is it Usher thinks he is seeing in "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

In Edgar Allan Poe's story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Roderick Usher holds a most peculiar belief. He believes that the fungi covering the gray stones of his house and the trees standing nearby are sentient and that they provide their own atmosphere, a strange and nearly visible influence, around the house.

On the story's last night, a horrible windstorm surrounds the House of Usher. The narrator cannot sleep, for he is “overpowered by an intense sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable.” The narrator has already risen when Roderick knocks on his door and enters. “And you have not seen it?” he asks the narrator.

Roderick hurries to the window and throws it open to the storm. The narrator peers out and notices that the wind is rapidly changing directions and the massive, dense clouds are flying with “life-like velocity,” bumping against one another yet not blowing away. There is no light from the moon or stars or even from lightning, yet the whole scene appears to glow “in the unnatural light of a faintly luminous and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hung about and enshrouded the mansion.”

To Roderick, this scene is the ultimate proof of his theory. The whole atmosphere around the House of Usher is alive, he thinks. It is radiating from the vegetation, swirling violently and angrily, perhaps getting ready to punish him. Roderick sees retribution preparing to strike.

Indeed, Roderick has done something truly horrifying, for he has placed his sister alive in her tomb. Perhaps Roderick even thinks that he sees her coming for him when he looks out into the strange storm. He certainly hears her, as does the narrator, and in the end, she stands at the door, falls upon her brother, and carries him into death with her as the narrator flees in horror.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is Roderick Usher's fear in "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

When the narrator first arrives at the Usher house, he finds Roderick in a dreadful condition, with an unknown illness having "terribly altered" the young man, reducing him to a shadow of his former self. Roderick explains that the disease is hereditary and that he worries that the fear it causes is going to cost him his sanity. He also confesses that he is afraid of the house and its perpetual state of gloom. Additionally, Roderick is afraid of his sister's imminent death, as she has an illness that doctors have not been able to diagnose.

Later in the story, after the supposed death of Madeline, Roderick begins to fear that he has buried his sister alive. While a storm rages outside, he admits that for many days he has been hearing her "feeble movements" from within the tomb:

I heard them—many, many days ago—yet I dared not—I dared not speak!

This fear proves valid when Madeline comes back from the grave and falls on top of him, killing them both in the process.

It is evident from the narrator's account that the entire atmosphere of the house is one of fear. This fear has entered Roderick's mind, increasing the severity of his paranoia.

The unnatural storm which rages on the night of Roderick's death leads to the destruction of the house, which seems to prove that Roderick's fears were justified at some level.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why won't Roderick Usher leave his home in "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

As was mentioned in the previous post, Roderick suffers from a severe mental illness, but there is indeed an unknown "superstitious" force that keeps him inside the home. Roderick has physical ailments that prevent him from leaving the house, such as sensitivity to light and sound, but there is also something more foreboding and ominous in nature keeping him secluded in the house. Although Poe does not go into specific detail, he mentions that Roderick was "enchained" by "certain superstitious impressions" which is why he refuses to leave home. Roderick, Madeline, and the house share some sort of common spiritual connection and are inextricably linked. Roderick's depressed, grief-stricken personality coincides with the gloomy nature of his residence. Roderick is also the last male heir of the Usher family, and upon his death, the house collapses. Roderick and the house are one, and his well-being is linked to the home by an unknown spiritual force which prevents him from leaving. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why won't Roderick Usher leave his home in "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

As mentioned above, there does indeed seem to be a loadstone that draws Roderick to the edges of insanity, something pulling him, unnerving him in the house.  That he and his sister are unnaturally connected is suggested in Poe's story; she has the physical infirmity while he has the mental.  Roderick and Madeline are not complete without the other; he cannot leave with his sister there.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why won't Roderick Usher leave his home in "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

We are told that it is part of his nervous condition, that forces him to seek solitude and rest. However, behind this, I think we can infer that there is some kind of compulsion that keeps him there. He clearly does not like the house and considers being the heir of the house of Usher a curse. It is suggested that he, Madeline and the house all are tied together somehow. Note how the house is destroyed when the two heirs die.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why is Usher afraid of fear itself in "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

When the narrator arrives at the house of Roderick Usher, he finds that his old friend is unwell. Roderick's complexion has faded, his hair has lost its luster, and he generally looks sickly. Roderick explains to the narrator that he believes that he will soon die and conveys his greatest fear:

I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect—in terror. In this unnerved—in this pitiable condition—I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, Fear.

This fear of fear creates symptoms that reflect a generalized anxiety and a proclivity for panic. This influences both the mood of the story and Roderick Usher's character development, as he confesses on his final night that for several days he has been hearing sounds rising from the tomb where they buried his sister, Madeline.

We can see the effect of Roderick's fear of fear after Madeline dies. On the night of the great storm, Roderick is especially anxious, with "a species of mad hilarity in his eyes," and the narrator tries to ease Roderick's fears by reading to him.

Roderick's fear of fear comes to a climax when his supposedly dead sister appears at the door. One interpretation of his demise is that when Madeline collapses upon him, it is his own fear that kills him rather than the physical act of falling to the floor.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why is Roderick Usher depressed in The Fall of the House of Usher?

Early on in the story, the narrator mentions that Roderick Usher has never had an outgoing or jovial temperament. However, on his arrival, the narrator is surprised to be greeted with

a vivacious warmth which had much in it, I at first thought, of an overdone cordiality.

This enthusiasm, however, has more desperation in it than artificiality. Roderick Usher has been alone for too long. His skin has a ghastly pallor, and he is nervous and agitated.

Roderick Usher is both depressed and anxious. His depression, aside from his melancholy cast of mind and his evidently poor physical condition, is brought on by watching his sister's declining health. Roderick and his sister, Madeline, are twins, and they have a mysterious psychological connection which makes her impending death even more painful for him. He seems to feel her pain as his own. Moreover, this connection to her makes him feel even more threatened himself.

Alongside his connection to Madeline, Roderick feels a curious connection to the house in which they live, and he believes that its atmosphere is exacerbating his mental and physical illness. After Madeline is buried, he deteriorates further, though at this stage he is perhaps too terrified to be depressed. The narrator finds himself affected by similar terrors, though he struggles against them more vigorously than his friend, whose nerves have already been weakened by the effects of his sister's illness and his own.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on