Viewing Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” through Psychoanalysis

May 31, 2021 | Journal

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
~ H. P. Lovecraft

Why do people do, what they do?

The human mind is a complex creation. It has depths that we could not, cannot and will never be able to reach. Edgar Allan Poe in his gothic novella conducted psychoanalysis on himself, or rather wrote it after he experienced the dive into his inner depths.

To understand what happens in the novella, we first need to define what psychoanalysis means.

“Ah, sweet child of Kos, returned to the ocean. A bottomless curse, a bottomless sea. Accepting of all that there is, and can be.”
~Fishing Hamlet Priest, Bloodborne

Freud’s Iceberg Theory:

According to Sigmund Freud’s Iceberg Theory the human mind consists of three components or levels. The first component, which is the conscious, can be seen above the ocean level. The second one is the pre-conscious, which is submerged, but still visible under the waves. And finally, we have the unconscious. This one is deep under the water, we cannot see how deep it goes, what it is like. The dark waves of the ocean keep it hidden and safe from the outside world.

I. Conscious:

The conscious level consists of thoughts that we are aware of. We can reach them easily and can control them. Also, we can define these as common, everyday thinking. Furthermore, the conscious is through what we perceive the world.

II. Pre-conscious:

This level is not part of or simply just not conscious at first, however, we can make it to be. Mostly the pre-conscious consists of memories that we do not think about everyday, but these can be triggered by cues. For example, a smell or a taste can bring back the joyful memory of a family dinner that this person had years ago.

In addition, the pre-conscious stores the knowledge that we gain throughout our life. For example, these could resurface through actions or by asking to remember to them.

III. Unconscious:

Inaccessible to us, to the conscious. We cannot become aware of it.

According to Freud if we became aware of our own unconscious, it would be horrific to us. Our conscious would split into fragments. However, the unconscious affects and influences the conscious and through it our behaviour and actions.

The unconscious consists of fears (un-rational fears included!), violent motives, irrational wishes, unacceptable sexual desires, selfish needs, immoral urges, shameful experiences and imprints of traumas, instincts.

This theory was improved upon, and the Conscious was expanded and became the Super-ego, the Pre-conscious became the Ego, and the Unconscious became the Id.

Freud’s theory was proved to be false later on by many psychologists. Yet, there is some truth to it.

Pictures within the novella:

Examples of the unconscious elements appearing within the novella.

The unaccepted sexual desire appears in the form of incest; the irrational fear appears in the image of the wraith/undead form of the Lady Madeline.


“The Fall of the House of Usher” is what happens when Poe enters into his own unconscious. It is in its inaccuracy the true evidence, how we cannot ever become aware of the unconscious. Because our conscious, through which we perceive the world, cannot comprehend it, therefore it deforms the experience and gives us something that we, at least, are able to digest…

The house represents a face, in the tarn we can see how it reflects. Like when someone stands before a mirror. Here the narrator slips. In the novella, the conscious enters into the unconscious. The narrator is unnamed. He is the only character that is not named, or called anything. He is an outsider; the conscious has no place inside the unconscious.

The crack on the face of the house represents the split personality of Poe. In fact, Roderick, Madeline and the Narrator are one person.

In the end, when the narrator leaves everything behind, we can witness the house collapsing and sinking into the tarn. That represents the triumph of the Super-ego over the Id.  However, does this mean that the psychoanalysis was successful? Did Poe emerge from his unconscious whole?

The Spirit:

Every creator has something extra. They are not ordinary people; they have access to the sacred, to the inner spiritual world. This can be interpreted as the Id. Are we the children of the Id?

Psychoanalysis is therefore communion with God.

“Hunters have told me about the church. About the gods, and their love. But… do the gods love their creations? I am a doll, created by you humans. Would you ever think to love me? Of course… I do love you. Isn’t that how you’ve made me?”
~The Doll, Bloodborne

Poe did not emerge from the unconscious as he entered into it. He changed, but does that mean that he was then broken or not whole? Or through this sacred communion with God did he became whole?