Critical Reading Questions (page 310)
3. (a) In the description of the exterior of the house, the words that suggest the presence of decay in the structure of the house are words such as “discoloration,” “minute fungi overspread the whole exterior,” “extraordinary dilapidation.” One sentence that really makes the presence of decay clear is, “No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones.” (b) There are many ways in which the description of the house foreshadows the ending of the story. One of these ways is how characters cannot move and act freely in the house because of its structure, so it assumes a grotesque character of its own, which is the Gothic intelligence that controls the fate of the people living there. The author creates confusion between living and inanimate objects by using the physical house of Usher to symbolize the genetic family line of the Ushers. Not only does the narrator get trapped inside the house of Usher, the reader learns that this confinement describes the biological fate of the Usher family. The peasantry confuses the mansion with the family because the physical structure has effectively dictated the genetic patterns of the family.
4. (a) The descriptive details of the interior of the house that suggest the narrator has entered a realm that is very different from the ordinary world are details such as the narrator felt that inside the house he “breathed an atmosphere of sorrow,” and that there was “irredeemable gloom that hung over and pervaded all.” These details foreshadow that the things that will happen inside the mansion are going to be much more sorrowful and gloomy than things that could ever happen in the ordinary world.
(b) The details in Usher’s appearance that suggest he has been cut off from the outside world for many years are described while comparing him to the boy that the narrator remembers from his childhood. Usher had a “ghastly pallor of the skin,” his “silken hair had been suffered to grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with effort, connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity.”
(c) The ways in which the appearance of the interior of the house are related to Usher’s appearance and to the condition of his mind are shown in how the author uses the word “house” metaphorically, as he compares the house and Usher, yet he also describes a real house. The inside of the house is very dark and gloomy, and I think that Usher’s appearance is also dark and gloomy. I think that if someone, like the narrator, would see the interior of the house they would be fearful of it because of its depressing and creepy look, and I think that the mind of Usher is depressing and fearful due to his mental illness.
5. (a) The beliefs about the “sentience” of matter that Usher expresses to the narrator are that he believes his house to be sentience because of the arrangement of the masonry and the vegetation surrounding it. Usher shares his theory with the narrator of “the sentience of all vegetable things.”
(b) Usher’s beliefs and fears are borne out by the final events of the story because for him, fear itself is worse than whatever you actually fear. In fact, fear is responsible for at least one of the deaths in the story. I think this story can be interpreted to show that fear of some dreaded occurrence actually manifests it in reality. I think since Usher feared his death, he brought about his death.
6. (a) The significance of the detail that the narrator finds himself becoming affected by Usher’s condition is important because this shows that maybe Usher’s condition really isn’t all in his head and his illness is not as bad as it may seem...