Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher"

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Edgar Allen Poe is a name that conjures up images of haunting dark rooms and dreary landscapes. His poems and short stories explore the inner workings of the human imagination, the parallelism of life and death, the fine line between sanity and madness, the delicate balance of beauty and terror, and the hesitation between a natural and a supernatural explanation of unusual events. “The Fall of the House of Usher” examines these themes in a collision and intermingling of manifold, complex circumstances. Poe uses duality and mirror images, symbolism, and a Gothic tone to convey the terror and fear that overwhelms and finally destroys the House of Usher. Studying the characters and the connections established between them, the symbolism and duality throughout the story, and most importantly the way in which the story is told, provides insight into the deeper meanings and true significance of the story.

A part of the terror of this story is its vagueness. Rather than directly exploring the internal causes of the Ushers' illnesses, it presents these characters to the narrator and the reader as an impenetrable mystery. While many have tried to decipher the twin motif, this paper serves to explore how the events effect the narrator, and in turn, effect the reader. As the reader tries to interpret the story and make sense of the strange events that unfold, the reader finds himself experiencing feelings that mirror the narrator's. This is an often overlooked meaning and purpose to “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

A study of the opening paragraph is a crucial element to understanding the significance of the story. The opening paragraph not only introduces the conflict between the natural and supernatural, but gives insight into the narrator's reason for telling this story. First, it sets up an opposition between the narrator's experience of a force that may be supernatural and his insistent interpretation of this experience as explainable according to obscure psychological laws or else illusory, the mere product of nerves. After struggling to rationalize his immediate “sense of insufferable gloom” upon merely glancing at the House of Usher, he acknowledges that worldly things can sometimes give shape to the mind. He tries to change his perspective to shake his gloomy feeling, but looking into the tarn and seeing the reflection of the house provides no relief and instead deepens his terror. This experience contradicts his beliefs. The conflict between the reports of his senses and his interpretations of these reports persists when he reasons that being conscious that one is giving way to superstition accelerates the speed at which one gives way. This is "the paradoxical law of all sentiments having terror as a basis.” Parallel to the narrator's conflict is a subtle opposition that becomes increasingly stronger and important as the story progresses.

Unlike many of Poe's other works, the opening provides no statement of the narrator's purpose in telling this story. Even though the narrator is never explicit about why he tells this story, he reveals his reasons indirectly from the very beginning. This narrator imagines a listener as conveyed by his conversational tone. The narrator mildly resists his own story, trying rhetorically to dissociate himself from it. The frequency of his assertions of the present tense increases at crucial points in his narrative: when he recounts his perception of the atmosphere, when he discusses Usher's artistic productions, and especially, when he reports Usher's belief in the sentience of all things. This resistance suggests that he is telling this story to convince himself, or rather have the reader confirm that he is not mad.

The purpose for the narrator's visit to the Usher House is to alleviate Rodrick from his suffering by means of his cheerful disposition. Upon discovering the physical similarities between Rodrick and the house, suggesting that both are essentially living corpses,...
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