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The Fall of the House of Usher

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Why does Roderick kill Madeline in "The Fall of the House of Usher"?

Quick answer:

Roderick kills Madeline by burying her alive, but his reasons for doing so are unclear. His actions bring about his own death as well, as Madeline emerges from the vault and kills Roderick in her final act.

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Some time after Madeline Usher passes away, it becomes apparent to the narrator—and to readers—that either Madeline is not dead or that, having died, she somehow stirs in the vault where she has been buried. Eventually, it is revealed that Madeline has been buried alive.

The narrator does not witness firsthand the supposed death of Madeline, which occurs relatively early on in the story, and Roderick is largely taciturn on the subject, seemingly out of grief. Near the end of the story, however, it becomes clear that Madeline’s supposed death took place under mysterious circumstances. When the “enshrouded figure of Madeline Usher,” her white robes bloodied and suggestive of a “bitter struggle,” emerges from the vault in a display of immense strength, readers are led to conclude that Roderick has buried her alive, knowingly or unknowingly.

It is unclear whether Roderick buries Madeline alive purposefully. Perhaps he assumes that she succumbed to her longstanding and mysterious illness. Perhaps he buries her purposefully in an attempt to kill her, inspired by an animosity between the two siblings or by his own “mental disorder.” But whatever Roderick’s degree of awareness, it is clear that Madeline is furious and vengeful. After she stumbles forth from the vault, she finds and seizes Roderick, and the two siblings fall to the floor dead. Ultimately, Roderick does kill Madeline, but she kills him as well.

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