Date Added: October 14, 2022
The Fall of the House of Usher is a typical representative of Edgar Allan Poe’s romantic stories, with deep symbolism, gothic protagonists who conceal a mystery, and a gloomy manner, reflecting the main character’s experiences. The story’s author describes the gloomy fading estate as something special, something important. It is not just a castle where people live; it is the ancestral home of the once noble House of Usher, which is about to fall, as the heirs of the house are both sick and childless. Their house, though gloomy, is described very thoroughly by the author, just as the grim manor Brontë described in Wuthering Heights. Although the house is not the story’s main character, it creates the atmosphere of a gothic tale in which the characters are connected to the house by some mystical ties. After the last heirs of the Ushers die, the house collapses, as if that is all the house had been waiting for. It is not always typical of gothic works for the gloom that Poe filled each of his stories with, but his gloominess, the associations with death that seem only to drive the story, are shrouded in this gothic.
An outside narrator also characterizes the gothic story. It is the hero from whom the story is told, with whom the reader could associate. The narrator describes for the reader the manor, the state of the characters, the atmosphere, and his feelings and describes it as if the reader were seeing and feeling it all himself, “I know not how it was – but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit” (Poe). It is why it creates the effect that if the narrator is frightened, the reader is also frightened. From the story’s beginning, we know almost nothing about Usher, even though the narrator is his longtime friend.
Nevertheless, they have not seen each other for a long time, and the narrator is somewhat reluctant to go to his old friend. Poe probably understood that in the place of the narrator could be anyone for whom the problems of an old friend are unlikely to become central, even though he is very ill. Nevertheless, the narrator is very attentive, and even though he feels uncomfortable in this once-majestic estate from the beginning, he tries to help his friend.
Indeed, Usher finds himself in a very desperate situation. He is very ill, as is his sister. Usher feels his sister’s death approaching and his own, feeling that his estate will soon be empty. However, it is only apparent to the narrator that the manor will not only be deserted but will most likely collapse, despite being very solidly built. It is hardly as obvious to Usher, who has locked himself into the manor, but Usher feels all too keenly and most likely feels that his sister is dying out and that his ancestral mansion will collapse. Poe gives the story the title The Fall of the House of Usher for a reason. Although the story centers on the main character, his fear of death and loneliness, it is also a metaphor for the fall of any aristocratic family that no longer has a place in the new reality, “… “House of Usher” – an appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion” (Poe).
The House of Usher is not just falling; anyone no longer needs it, and because the primary heirs are sick and childless, the family has no chance to continue. Like an ancient manor house, ancient lineage is also an element of a gothic tale. The aristocratic nature of the characters, their ancient lineage, and the possible mystery they are hiding are central to any gothic story. After all, it is likely that Usher and his twin sister are not the first in the family to face the disease. Since both brother and sister are sick, the disease is expected to be genetic and passed from father to son, from Usher to Usher. However, as long as the aristocracy was strong and there was room for it, the clan prospered, the diseases were hidden, and the estate itself continued to exist. Over the course of the Usher family’s existence, an extensive library had formed on the estate, and the Ushers were famous for their love of music. Perhaps once there were balls in the house, it was fun as it often was in aristocratic homes. Nevertheless, if Poe were describing what the house looked like before it fell, it would hardly be his typical account of death and even less likely to be a gothic tale.
Another characteristic of a gothic story is a mystery, murder, and fear of mysticism. It is present not only in Wuthering Heights but also in the novel of another Brontë sister, Jane Eyre. There was also an old gloomy manor house with a mystery that the main character was trying to solve. Although the mystery, in the end, was not mystical, the main character seems to try to feel and justify her fear with this mysticism throughout the story. Similarly, in Poe’s story, Usher constantly speaks of a particular curse and spirit in his home, though in reality, he is simply afraid of his death and that of his sister (Mautner, 33). It is as if the protagonists of the gothic stories are trying to give the most ordinary things a mystical connotation, some additional meaning because otherwise, it is nothing more than an ordinary death in an old but ordinary house.
Nevertheless, the authors of gothic stories precisely describe the atmosphere of this gloom, adding to the characters’ feelings a particular uncertainty about what is true and what is not and where the mystique ends, and reality begins. This is a story on the verge of mysticism in which, to the last, it seems that the very ghost that has been scaring the narrator or the hero all along will appear; nevertheless, this ghost does not occur, and the events unfolding at the end of the story are the result of ordinary human fear and weakness. So Usher knows that his sister is not dead; he feels this because he is her twin brother. After all, he guesses that she has a liturgical disease, yet he still locks her away. As if Usher is trying to cheat death and loneliness and therefore condemns his sister to such a terrible fate. At the same time, Usher guesses that his sister may be alive, which is why he does not bury her immediately, yet he does nothing to free her.
The central part of any romantic story is the tragic death in which almost all of the main characters die. In The Fall of the House of Usher, Roderick Usher himself and his sister die, and only the narrator survives. Throughout the story, however, we are not presented with many characters. There are only a few characters, and two die under extraordinary circumstances of the three. So Usher and his sister are sick, a doctor visits them, and there is a narrator who observes everything, but when Usher says his sister is dead, the narrator believes it, and they take his sister down to the dungeon together. The narrator sees that the sister is blushing, that it is as if she is asleep, and yet believes Usher. However, Usher plots a terrible crime to bury his sister alive. It is unclear why he decided to do this, and most likely, he was influenced by his already sickly condition, which worsened his psyche.
Usher can no longer wait for the inevitable loss of his loved one, so he decides not to wait. Usher’s condition is like the same storm that begins around his estate. It is essentially the floundering state of a man who no longer understands what is right and wrong and what can finally bring relief. It could be called the agony before death when one is not thinking clearly about what one is saying or doing. Though Usher manages to act calm and deceive the narrator, he is still ill, and pretending to be calm may be as much a symptom of his illness as of the nearness of his demise. The story’s climax seems to be Usher’s confession that he may have buried his sister alive, and it is the sound of her trying to get out of the dungeon that they hear on the night of the storm (Martindale, 9).
It is inherent in the gothic story to reveal a crime or mystery, and it is up to the author to place this climax in the middle of the novel or at the end of his story. Since Poe wrote short stories, this climax occurs at the end. Poe not only solves Usher’s crime but resurrects his sister, who comes after her brother, exhausted in blood, to take him with her. Poe does not go into the details of this death. It seems that Usher dies more because of shock, and his sister is just exhausted from her last attempts to get out, get revenge on her brother, and take him with her. Their deaths are tragic and unusual, and the narrator does not even have time to recover from what he sees as the entire house collapsing, burying the last Ushers beneath it. The tragic death, in which the sick brother buries his sister alive, is another fall of the House of Usher, in which love and intimacy have been replaced by fear and loneliness.
Poe’s story is a somber tale in which death seems to be present throughout the story. However, Poe describes death in a way that turns it into poetry. The author creates his dystopian world full of symbolism, in which the manor and the characters exist in a single space. The estate itself, ancient with mystery, is an element of the gothic story, as are the protagonists of an ancient aristocratic family who fade instead with their home. A gothic story does not necessarily have many characters or a gripping story, but enough of the mystery, the mystery, and the atmosphere that the narrator creates for us. This atmosphere is filled with a haunting gloom, as if the author cannot take his eyes off the tragic and unusual death of the characters and tries to make that death just as appealing to the reader. However, at the end of the gothic story, the mystique turns into reality, and everything so frightening to the narrator and the reader throughout the story is explained by quite ordinary things.
- Martindale, Colin. Archetype and Reality in “the Fall of the House of Usher.” Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism, vol. 5, no. 1(1972), https://doi: 10.1111/j.1754-6095.1972.tb00184.x.
- Mautner, Renata R. The Self, the Mirror, the Other: “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism, vol. 10, no. 2(1977), https://doi: 10.1111/j.1754-6095.1977.tb00037.x.
- Poe, Edgar Allan. The Fall of the House of Usher. Prabhat Prakashan, 1973.