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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Topics for Discussion

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1. Poe precedes his stories with prefatory quotations that relate to theme and plot. Explain how de Beranger's quotation applies to "The Fall of the House of Usher."

2. Poe's literary techniques include dramatic openings for his short stories. By noting word choices and descriptions, comment on Poe's opening technique for "The Fall of the House of Usher."

3. In his literary theory, Poe claims that a story must concentrate on a "single effect." What is the single effect in this story and how is it accomplished in the story's opening? How is the single effect evident in setting, characters, and symbols?

4. Obvious symbols within the story are the house and "The Haunted Palace." Specifically, what do these symbolize?

5. What physical descriptions of the house's exterior relate to Roderick? To Madeline? To the Usher family?

6. In the narrative's beginning are references to Roderick's eye as being bright and luminous, but at the end his eye is described as "the luminousness had utterly gone out." What would account for this? Does a similar condition apply to Roderick's countenance, and, if so, explain?

7. Although not as extensive as in "The Masque of Red Death," 'The Fall of the House of Usher" contains some color symbolism. What are the colors associated with the Usher house, Roderick, and Madeline? What colors appear in "The Haunted Palace" and what do these colors suggest?

8. One critic claims that Madeline is a vampire. By alluding to specific details in the story, agree or refute this idea.

9. Explain why at the end of the story, Roderick calls the narrator a madman: "Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door!"

10. How effective is the storm as a literary gothic effect at the end of the story? What other novels, stories, or films use a similar technique?

11. What opening details foreshadow the story's conclusion?

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