"The Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allen Poe: Imagery and Parallelism

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In his short story "The Fall of the House of Usher", Edgar Allen Poe

presents his reader with an intricately suspenseful plot filled with a

foreboding sense of destruction. Poe uses several literary devices, among the

most prevalent, however are his morbid imagery and eerie parallelism. Hidden in

the malady of the main character are several different themes, which are all

slightly connected yet inherently different.

Poe begins the story by placing the narrator in front of the decrepit,

decaying mansion of Roderick Usher. Usher summoned his childhood friend, the

narrator, to his home by sending a letter detailing only a minor illness.

After the narrator arrives and sees the condition of the house he becomes

increasingly superstitious. When the narrator first sees his host he describes

his morbid appearance and it arouses his superstition even more. Over a period

of time the narrator begins to understand his friends' infliction, insanity.


tries in vane to comfort his friend and provide solace, however to no avail.

When Roderick's only remaining kin, his sister Madeline dies, Rodericks insanity

seems to have gone to a heightened level. Shortly after his sister's death,

Roderick's friend is reading him a story. As things happen in the story,

simultaneously the same description of the noises come from within the house.

As Usher tries to persuade the narrator that it is his sister coming for him,

and his friend believing Roderick has gone stark raving mad, Madeline comes

bursting in through the door and kills her brother. The narrator flees from the

house, and no sooner does he get away than he turns around and sees a fissure in

the houses masonry envelop the house and then watch the ground swallow up the


In "The Fall of the House of Usher" Poe introduces the reader to three

characters; Lady Madeline, Roderick Usher, and the narrator, whose name is never

given. Lady Madelin, the twin sister of Roderick Usher, does not speak one word

throughout the story. In fact she is absent from most of the story, and she and

the narrator do not stay together in the same room. After the narrators arrival

she takes to her bed and falls into a catatonic state. He helps to bury her and

put her away in a vault, but when she reappears he flees. Before she was buried

she roamed around the house quietly not noticing anything, completely overcome

by her mental disorder.

Roderick Usher appears to be an educated man. He comes from a wealthy

family and owns a huge library. According to the narrator, he had once been an

attractive man and "the character of his face had been at all times remarkable"

(Poe, 126). However , his appearance had deteriorated over time. Roderick's

altered appearance probably was caused by his insanity. The narrator notes

various symptoms of insanity from Roderick's behavior. Roderick's state worsens

throughout the story as he becomes increasingly restless and unstable,

especially after the burial of his sister. He find himself unable to sleep and

also finds that he hears noises. All in all he is a severely unbalanced man

trying to maintain an equilibrium in his life.

In contrast to Roderick, the narrator appears to be a man of common sense.

He seems to have a good heart in that he comes to help a friend from his

childhood. He, like, Roderick also appears to be very educated and very

analytical. In his observations of Usher he concludes that his friend suffers

from an acute mental disorder. He looks for natural explanations for the odd

things that Roderick senses. Criticizing Usher for his outrageous fantasies,

the narrator claims that Roderick is "enchained by certain superstitious

impressions, in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted"(Poe,125). The

narrator's tone suggests that he cannot understand Usher. However he himself is


The three characters are unique people with different characteristics, but

they all eventually suffer from the same mental disorder. All of them suffer

from insanity, yet each responds differently. Madeline seems to accept the fact

that she is insane and continues through life with that knowledge. Roderick

seems to realize his mental state and makes every effort to hold on his sanity.

And the narrator who is slowly but surely contracting the disease, wants to deny

what he sees, hears, and senses. In the end he regains his senses but only

because he flees from the house.

Poes writings are known for their macabre subject matter. In "The Fall of

the House of Usher", Poe uses the life-like characteristics of an otherwise

decaying house as a device for giving the house a supernatural atmosphere. From

the beginning of the story the narrator claims to have sensed something unusual

and supernatural about the house. After he sees the inside of the house the

narrator has a heightened superstition, though he tries to view everything he

sees rationally. He observes the home and sees fungi growing all over it and

the decaying masonry "there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its

still perfect adaptation of parts and the utterly porous and evidently decayed

condition of stones" (Poe,125)as if to say something supernatural was holding

the house up, otherwise it might have fallen apart a long time before. By

giving objects almost lifelike characteristics, Poe gives the house a

supernatural quality which serves to make the story more interesting and

suspenseful in his treatment of the houses effect on its inhabitants.

There are sections in the story where different forms of art; a painting

and a poem, are introduced. Both of them tell a story within a story. These

stories , in their own way are somehow parallel to the story in "The Fall of the

House of Usher".

The painting was a painting done by Henry Fuesli. "Fuesli was noted for

his interest in the supernatural."(Poe, 127). "A small picture presented the

interior of an immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel, with low walls,

smooth, white, and without interruption...and bathed the whole in a ghastly and

inappropriate splendor." (Poe, 127). This description can be interpreted as a

place of sorrow, where the atmosphere is morbid and cold. Most people have art

in their homes for reasons of cheering up the place. All this painting did was

add morbidity and coldness to the house.

The poem entitled "The Haunted Palace" makes a connection between the house

and its inhabitants. The poem seems to parallel to the plot of "The Fall of the

House of Usher". "Once a fair and stately palace--snow white palace--reared its

head"(Poe, 127). This describes the past of the Usher home. It was once a

stately mansion, but as time went by the house deteriorated along with the

conditions of the people occupying it. We get to the present in both the story

and this excerpt "but evil things in rokes of sorrow, assailed the monarchs high

estate"(Poe, 126). This is what is happening to the Usher house now. The house

along with its inhabitants are full of sorrow.

Poe uses differing themes of fear, death, and freedom throughout the story

to set a suspenseful mood. Roderick is overcome by the fear that he is

experiencing and it affects every aspect of his life. It is the constant

presence of fear that has caused his illness. He doesn't know how or is

unwilling to overcome these fears. The narrator suggests Roderick's fears may

be directly linked to the house "he is enchained by certain superstitious

impressions in regard to the dwelling which he is tenanted, and from which for

many years he never ventured forth"(Poe, 125), implying that his condition might

be relieved if he left the house and faced his fears. Because of fear, however

he is restrained from leaving and doesn't attempt to overcome them. The

recurring concept of fear in the story shows it power and impact on humanity.

Fear can be beneficial by restraining us from actions that can lead to harm or

danger. Poe, however, takes this to the extreme by showing the negative

influences of fear. Fear can restrain us from actions that could be beneficial,

and excessive fear can lead to insanity. He also shows that fear can be passed

on to others, ultimately showing that we must recognize our fears to be able to

overcome them.

Death is Roderick Usher's main fear. He is from a "time honored" and

prestigious family. And he and his sister are the last of a long line of

descendants. Poe uses the concept of death and Roderick's deteriorating mental

condition in order to give a sense of foreboding and mystery to the story. It

is this premonition of something dreadful to come which surround the characters

of Roderick and Madeline as the story progresses. From the time the narrator

sees Roderick his comments compare Roderick to death itself, saying that his

appearance indicates death. It is also as if Roderick foresees his forthcoming

death and wishes to pass the time away with his friend so he would not go crazy.

This theme of death seems to intertwine with the theme of freedom. It seemed to

Roderick Usher that death could be his only freedom. Because he was constrained

to the confines of his house and it turned him into a prisoner. Even in the

narrators words he viewed him as a "slave" of the house. All Roderick wanted

was to be free from the "Daemon of Death", and only death would free him from

his insanity and the confines of his house.

Poe's graphic portrayal of imagery enhance every aspect of the story, from

the suspense of the story itself, to the wild personalities of the characters

and the similarly morbid themes inherently present.