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

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What are two examples of foreshadowing in "The Fall of the House of Usher" and their impact on the story's tone and mood?

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Foreshadowing is a literary device used by authors to offer clues about coming events in a story. By hinting to readers about things that might happen in the future, writers create expectations that make stories more interesting and often mysterious. Sometimes, writers craft dialogue among characters that foreshadows events to come. The method helps fiction authors to develop a suspenseful atmosphere and advance the plot, leaving readers wanting more information.

In “The Fall of the House of Usher,Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) employs foreshadowing in several scenes. As a Gothic tale, the story creates an atmosphere of gloom and ghostliness, marked by mysterious appearances and supernatural occurrences. The opening passage is exemplary in its use of foreshadowing and its evocation of a classically Gothic atmosphere:

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit.

The description by the unnamed narrator of the house and landscape is consistent with the foretold aura. He observes “bleak walls” and “decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation.” The Gothic tone coupled with the “mansion of gloom” and its “ghastly tree-stems” leaves no doubt that Poe intends the passage to portend evil.

Yet another portent is exhibited in the words of Roderick Usher when he explains to the narrator the horror he experiences living in his own house:

To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave. "I shall perish," said he, "I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the events of the future, not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder at the thought of any, even the most trivial, incident, which may operate upon this intolerable agitation of soul. 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."

The gloomy mood and mysterious tone constitute a brilliant demonstration of foreshadowing in “The Fall of the House of Usher.” From the outset of the tale, Poe sets the stage for events to come—even the title constitutes foreshadowing.

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