Reflection on „The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe

May 14, 2021 | Journal

The Fall of the House of Usher” When I read this novella ten years ago, I thought that it is only a horror story. A dark story about madness and the undead… However, as we change during the ages, so does the stories that we read. Therefore, now I see it in a different light. There is that hidden vault we need to open deep inside the House of Usher, hidden, buried under the endless crypts.

At first sight, the story that is being retold by the narrator is about madness, incest and horror. However, these are only the symptoms, but not the root of the darkness that consumes this house and its inhabitants. The ancestors of Roderick Usher and his twin sister had made a pact among themselves. They intended to keep the bloodline, the family of Usher, or – as it was called in the novella – the race of Usher pure.

This pact has not only cursed them, but everything around them. The darkening effect wraps the scenery in darkness and even conveys that feeling through the narrator to the reader. The novella aims to cast not only the House of Usher into the depths, but everyone, including the reader. During the events of the story the narrator, himself – who is the protagonist of the story, through whose memories about the events we get to know the story – is being corrupted by either the House or the Curse. Maybe the Curse and the House are one and the same. The Curse manifesting itself as the House.

Incest is a great sin, the act of twisting and corrupting nature itself. By committing this sin, the generations that came afterwards were cursed, and then this curse concluded with the killing of the bloodline by its own hand. The last two siblings of the Usher race have sunken into madness beyond retribution and thus ended the line by killing each other. So, what the ancestors saw as the key of the survival of the House of Usher, caused its downfall in the very end. And with them poetically fell the residence that housed them.

However, I cannot say for sure what really happened in the last moments of the novella, because by that time the madness had already crawled inside the head of the narrator too. I cannot say for sure what he saw there, but the curse was no more and the House of Usher fell. Either by the hands of Roderick or by the madness that consumed both Lady Madeline and Lord Roderick. (Resulting in killing each other.)

To my humour, when I reread this novella when seeing Richard Usher I thought of the Duke of Ferrara at once. Somehow, the two of them resembled each other. Nobles have these distinguishable features, both of them were obsessed, they carved power and control, both of them hid and closed away their woman. Also, if I would want to re-evaluate my thoughts based on this grim story about “My last Duchess” then I would sink into the conclusion that the Duke was just as mad as our Roderick was.  In my mind formed a twisted image, while reading, that this is just a follow up on that poem…

Everyone longs for immortality and fears the cold embrace of death. Some people are driven to do dark and darker deeds to avoid it. However, such a desire is cursed. The House of Usher saw that in the continuation of a pure and aryan bloodline. And in that cursed house that kept them. Although, what horrors and dark secrets it held, in the shadow of this revelation we may never know.

The word “hollow” caught my eyes. Thereafter, I heard voices telling me “Do not go hollow”. Could the madness of Roderick be reversed? Was this really the only way to end the curse? Those are questions that we never got the answer for. By this the dark curse had closed the circle. Was it inevitable? Based on the level of incest it might was not.

Going hollow is the same as sinking deep inside madness and hopelessness from where there is no way of returning. The last push that Roderick needed was the illness of his twin sister. Also, for Lady Madeline the same could be said. Hope had long ago abandoned that House.

Roderick foreshadows the events to come in his poem. He knows it well, what is to come, and this might be the reason for him calling on a friend. Within his madness he is still afraid of death. He knows what to do, how to end this curse, by ending the bloodline, but he cannot do it alone. The fact that he had to call upon a friend from his boyhood shows us that he had no one to call to be his true friend. They were alone in their madness, closed inside the wraps of the curse. Maybe if they had left? Could that save them? Maybe they had no chance to escape. But that would only delay the curse and might have caused something even greater evilness.

If we take the facts out from the novella and try to stay in reality, Roderick is in the state of deep depression. He fears of being left alone after his sister would die. Also, any try of the narrator fails to cheer up the Lord of the House. This deep depression can leave its marks not only on the body of the victim, but on the environment he or she is living in as well. In addition, it can affect the people that surround them. I know this state and feeling well. Dark thoughts would never leave the person alone. And going hollow is inevitable if there is no one to help you. This state of depression takes its effect and toll on the narrator as well and this is why he suffers from insomnia and mild hallucinations. The death of Roderick, at least how the events happened as described in the novella could be the hallucinations of the narrator, who could not comprehend the events that took place within the manor. The narrator could not comprehend that his boyhood friend had sunken into this deep state  of depression and that he failed in aiding him. Also, most likely Roderick killed himself in the last moments and the mind of the narrator affected by the grim house and the effects of mild depression and insomnia caused him to hallucinate the figure of Lady Madeline to commit this dark act. We also know that the two – since they were twins – have resembled each other, and further implementation of this thought would lead us to the metaphor that they indirectly killed each other.

In a way, the novella represents both a history of horror and a dystopian future about the fall of humanity. By applying the moral-philosophical approach, the story tries to teach and explain us the consequences of incest, also how madness and depression can take root in it. Furthermore, how clinging to a pure bloodline can twist us. The same is true if we extend this to the whole of humanity. If we try to purify ourselves and create a somewhat perfect race, in this case the race of Usher, then we are destined to doom. A world wrapped in darkness, empty and hollow, will await us. Where last remnants of the human race will strife to survive. Looking for the fire of Prometheus, to regain hope and redeem themselves from the sins of their ancestors.

Therefore, this dark tale about “The Fall of the House of Usher” serves as a warning for us.

Post Script:

I wrote this journal without reading any critical approach written about Edgar Allan Poe’s „The Fall of the House of Usher”. However, after reading into the topic, I arrived to some conclusions that I would like to include here.

First of all, as stated by Gary E. Tombleson this is a gothic story with the so called “cosmic unity” that is inherent in “The Fall of the House of Usher”. According to Wilhelm Worringer, within gothic archetypes we are met with a vitality, which is independent from us and forces itself onto us against our will. This statement is further supported by my own experiences with the novella, whereas I felt the dark depression of the story creeping inside me, and challenging me. The story told by Poe is filled with gothic metaphors and images, like the whirlwind and the tar, which consumes the house in the end.

Second, further reading into the sources, I recognised how they support my idea about the “Hunted Palace” and the “Mad Trist”, which are integrated part of the narrative. According to Joseph Riddel the story is standing on two opposing tendencies. Roderick aims to sustain the difference and maintain the integrity of a “deficient” genealogical line (result of incest) and by doing so delaying the end of the Usher bloodline. Riddel further states, that the end of the Usher family is the end of the narrative itself. “The effect of this tension or conflict is Usher’s “neurosis””. In addition, further examples are given, such as the narrative of the story is a “fictional labyrinth”. “Everything in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is a metaphorical detour, a delay in the course of a narrative which pushes toward its own tautological conclusion”.

Third, David Roche’s approach supported my views in regard of the medical analysis. Roderick shows the symptoms of deep depression that leaves its mark not only on him, but on his surroundings as well. Poe uses “insanity” both as a metaphor and an illness. Therefore, making the novella to be a tragedy. Both the person and his environment are contagious in regards of this unhealthy life force, which both the narrator and the reader can easily adapt and get infected with. The protagonist of the story cannot cure Roderick from his illness; he is unable to further recognise what treatment he would need to be whole again.