House Of Usher

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 10th grade February 2002

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Edgar Allan Poe is known the world over for his dark and delusional tales that delve into the minds of the disturbed, instead showing us ourselves upon reflection. Of all his short stories, perhaps the most widely known is The Fall of the House of Usher, in which the narrator visits his friend, Roderick Usher, who is suffering from fits of lunacy, and eventually is overwhelmed with fear and leaves the house quite hurriedly. Poe gives the house a decayed, decomposed look, such as the "barely perceptible fissure"¦ extending from the roof of the building in front"¦ until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn," and using the same type of description for Roderick himself, Poe uses the title to mean two things "“ that both actual house itself and Roderick and Madeline are parallel in nature. Since the house is to fall sometime soon, so shall the family Usher, both existences being intertwined as they are.

Poe illustrates the fact that while Madeline becomes physically weak so does Roderick become weak in the mind- they are both the body and the mind of the house which is the quintessence of the Usher household, and the Spirit of the tradition of the Usher family, and all things that live as one shall die as one.

Many people can be described as "two parts of a pod", and such is true for the Usher twins, only to the highest degree. Both Roderick and his twin sister Madeline are each half of the same being, their body being that of the house itself. Critic William Heim states that the house is "a symbolic image of a human mind" and that Roderick Usher is "the ego or consciousness which attempts to bury the primitive impulses of the id, Madeline." The House is merely a vessel in which the id and ego can exist or rather it is the mind and the two people are merely the parts of its brain, the narrator being the "superego, an awareness of standards and conventions that mediates between the twins." (Heim 1) This comparison correlates with the conception that while Madeline is being weakened physically, Roderick is being weakened mentally, and the narrator is absorbing both characteristics, he being the one who keeps both beings in check, yet "Roderick, who has not moved from the interior of the house "¦ now wishes to be released from its influence" (Engel 187) Poe gives many examples of how the twins of the Usher household are as one, they sharing "A striking similitude," and that "sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them." Both brother and sister are of the same being, they are the spirit and consciousness of the House, and all shall fall if one does so, as shown by Madeline's death leading to Roderick's, for either both shall live, or both shall die, there is no compromise.

Sometimes events happen and they coincide at the exact moment as something else, yet possibly somewhere deep inside the human mind is a consciousness that can influence other people's decisions through the use of supernatural powers. The parallelism between Mad Trist and Madeline's revival help to show the corresponding nature between Roderick and his sister. The sheer impossibility that both events would coincide in such a manner easily dismiss the possibility of chance, thus leaving the notion of Roderick himself arousing his sister from "the dead" during the course of the reading. Many people believe Poe to be using this element as a device in which to increase the horror, yet in actuality, he is using it to show the true duality of man and how one part cannot exist with the other, compelling Roderick to force his sister out of the grave, as he becomes "a victim to the terrors he had anticipated." Although Roderick consciously makes the decision to bury his sister, in the full knowing that she is still living, in order to suppress his counterpart, he is unsuccessful, for "[m]adeline breaks out of her tomb and emerges to the level of the waking consciousness precipitating the total mental breakdown of the organism." (Heim 1) Roderick tries to break free of his physical self, Madeline, in order to make all his fantasies a reality. He "tries to detach [him]self from [his] more physically oriented twin (Madeline). This can be seen as Roderick's aversion to his own senses,"(Womack 1) for even to look into the dark imagination where fantasy becomes reality is to evoke madness, and choosing to rid one's self of the body is exemplative in this nature.

Many times people try to rid themselves of certain ailments or hindrances. The crack in the house is the result of Roderick Usher's attempt to unsuccessfully rid himself of his counterpart --- they both being two parts of the same mind, which was split down the middle to form the embodiments of the two beings. Roderick rids himself of the part of his mind symbolized by his sister, in order to escape the harsh reality that is reality, and to escape into the fantasy world of his mind. Unfortunately for Roderick, "When fantasy suppresses reality and the physical self, as in Roderick's case, what results is madness and mental death" (Womack 2), for he cannot survive without his corporeal essence. The narrator is sent for to act as a mediator and to aid Roderick in his ascent into the surreal, for he is too weak to do so himself. Roderick fears the return of his sister part, because although the two are technically separate, when one dies, so must the other, and so shall they be united in death; as it is quite impossible for one being, the house, to properly exist in this dimension without the appropriate counterparts, Roderick and his sister, it must crumble into "the deep and dank tarn.". One wonders whether or not the twins originated as one being, becoming two separate entities as the house has split down the middle, looking alike and still being the same, only divided by lack of physical oneness. And since Madeline has been killed, and Roderick drained of his own life, so does the house collapse upon itself, "[a]s the two are reunited in death (the mind can neither live nor die without its physical counterpart, the senses), the house (a symbol of a now deranged individual) crumbles into the "˜deep and dank tarn,' as the narrator flees in terror for his own sanity,"(Womack 2) so ends the House of Usher.

Poe uses his unique blend of horror and imagery to illustrate the need for a person to be in completeness, or else suffer the endless torments of partiality. When Roderick and his sister "are at last drawn violently and fatally together, and all is sucked into the black hole of the tarn," (Heim 2) they became one with the house in death, for they could not survive disconnected in life. No person can ever separate himself into his primary ingredients, as Poe shows us, for the loss of one shall account for the loss of the whole, and no single part can survive on its own, such is the nature of all things, for we are all dependant on one another for food, and education, and business, and so on. Eventually all things must come to an end, "resulting in final reunification with the source that must annihilate things as they now exist" (Heim 2). Poe is saying that nothing can live on its own, and to disrupt the very nature of life itself is a violation of the highest laws of God, and therefore intolerable.