Essay on Edgar Allen Poe's Fall of House of Usher

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Bipolar disorder affects many people today as well as in the time of Edgar Allen Poe when it was then called melancholia. Poe was diagnosed with this disorder and it plays an integral role in his story, “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839). This story is heavily influenced by this disorder or its presently associated symptoms and also describes one way that bipolar disorder can genetically affect an entire family. To fully understand a story involving this disorder, it is cardinal to know the exact definition of bipolar disorder, as well as its symptoms and previous aliases. The Oxford English Dictionary defines bipolar disorder as: “a form of mental illness characterized by one or more episodes of mania typically accompanied by one or more episodes of major depression” (Cite?). Some terms used for what is now considered bipolar disorder include melancholia and manic depression. Melancholia is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as: “A pathological state of despondency; severe depression; severe endogenous depression, with loss of interest and pleasure in normal activities, disturbance of sleep and appetite, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, and thoughts of death or suicide.” (Cite?). The first person to associate melancholia and madness as two parts of the same disease was Araeteus from Cappadocia (30-90 AD) (Skeppar 8). Manic Depression is actually included as an equivalent term to bipolar disorder in the Oxford English Dictionary. (Cite?) There are four main stages of bipolar disorder: hypomania, mania, depressed, and mixed. Hypomania and mania share similar symptoms such as racing thoughts, increased physical activity, lack of sleep and hunger, and heightened sensitivity. Hypomania also has a distinct symptom labeled as an increase in goal directed activity. The depression stage includes symptoms such as constant depression, insomnia or hypersomnia, psychomotor agitation, energy loss, trouble thinking, and indecisiveness. As expected the mixed stage has some common symptoms as the other stages and also more severe such as thoughts of death and suicidal ideations. These symptoms previously mentioned play an immense role in diagnosing the character of Roderick Usher.

It is common knowledge that bipolar disorder has symptoms of mood swings both high and low which is why it is justly named. Not commonly known, however, is the link between artistry and this disorder (Jamison). The wise Aristotle is quoted as saying, “Why is it that all men who are outstanding in philosophy, poetry or the arts are melancholic?” (Jamison 51). A side note to this is evident when Jamison states: “The manic drive in its controlled form and phase is of value only if joined to ability” (Jamison 55). The artistic tendencies frequently common with bipolar syndrome help the reader to diagnose Roderick Usher in the story “The Fall of the House of Usher”.

It is overwhelmingly clear that throughout Poe’s story, Roderick Usher suffers from bipolar disorder. It is clear from early on in the story that Usher is suffering not only from depression, but also from an illness in his mind as shown in his letter to the narrator: “The writer spoke of acute bodily illness — of a mental disorder which oppressed him — and of an earnest desire to see me, as his best, and indeed his only personal friend, with a view of attempting, by the cheerfulness of my society, some alleviation of his malady.” (Poe). The narrator also notices his mood swings evidenced by the different ways in which he would talk displayed by this passage: “His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision (when the animal spirits seemed utterly in abeyance) to that species of energetic concision — that abrupt, weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation — that leaden, self-balanced and perfectly modulated guttural utterance, which may be observed in the lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium, during the periods of his most intense excitement.” (Poe). Another...
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