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

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” is clearly one of his most well known short stories. Well over a hundred years after this story was written the basic elements of fear are being used today in cinematic and written works. In essence there are two elements that need to be understood to understand this story; the plot of the story, and the critical interpretations of tone and style to Poe’s story. To understand any of the basic ideas of an story the reader must understand the plot of a story.

On a “dull , dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year” the narrator travels to isit his boyhood companion, Roderick Usher. The House of Usher looks out upon a “black and lurid tarn” and is surrounded by decaying vegetation. The narrator is depressed and unnerved by his melancholy surroundings. As he peers at the image of the house in the water, he fancies there is an atmosphere peculiar to the whole area, “a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued. ” Before he enters the mansion he notices that its entire front is covered by minute fungi.

A valet conducts him through intricate passages to the rooms of Roderick Usher, whom he finds greatly changed. His complexion is adaverous, his eyes unusually bright, and he is suffering from ” excessive nervous agitation. ” The morbid acuteness of his senses makes him shun food, light and sound, except in their mildest forms. His condition is complicated by the wasting away of his sister Madeline who is slowly dying of an unknown disease. The narrator attempts to relieve the melancholy of his friend.

They read and paint together, and Usher sometimes plays the guitar. The narrator realizes that he can’t cheer his friend who has obviously entered on purpose a world of strange spiritual reality. He and Madeline ar the last of his and the evil genius of the family eems to demand that they investigate modes of being that are unknown to other men. He accompanies his wild impromptus on the guitar with rhymed lyrics. One of his poems, titled ” The Haunted Palace,” speaks of evil things which overthrow a kingdom of wisdom and light.

The Lady Madeline dies, and at Usher’s request his friend helps him to enter the coffin temporarily in a vault in the basement of the mansion. They open the coffin for a last look at the deceased and notice “a faint blush upon the bosom and the face,” a charactreistic, the narrator tells us, of deaths sue to catalepsies. In the days following the interment of his sister. Roderick ignores his ordinary occupations and wanders through the hose aimlessly. At times he appears to be listening in profound attention to some sound that only he can hear.

One stormy night the narrator is unable to sleep to a window, and upon looking out his friend perceives that “a faintly luminous and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation” hangs about the mansion. In an effort to calm the hypersensitive Roderick his friend reads to him, but is interrupted by a knock at the door. Usher cries out that it is his sister at the door, whom he knows they had put living in the tomb. The Lady Madeline enters, bloody, and falls upon her brother who dies of fright as they collapse to the floor.

The narrator rushes from the mansion, and as he is riding away there is a sound “like the voice of a thousand waters,” and the House of Usher sinks below the tarn. The critical interpretations of how this story is told are Important to give the reader a better understanding of the written material. As we have seen, many critics have interpreted Poe’s tales as projections of his own situation and character, and there is undoubtedly some truth in this. Hervey Allen believes that the escription of Roderick Usher might be labeled ” Self Portrait of the Artist at the Age of Thirty.

Critics who agree with this approach see in Usher’s constitutional weakness a projection of Poe’s indecisiveness and insecurity. They see in the strange curse that has fallen upon Usher a projection of Poe’s feeling that he was an outcast and damned by forces beyond his control. They see repeated in Usher’s unusual bond of sympathy with his sister, Poe’s desire to have a woman as a perfect friend and companion with whom he could share his fears and enthusiasms. There is , however a limit to such an interpretation. The story tands as an independent work of art without any reference to the life of the author.

The story has always been considered one of Poe’s classics, and bears the characteristic marks of his craftsmanship. The House of Usher itself, with its arches and dark passageways. However, if Poe often used many of the standard effects and props of the traditional horror story, he also added many of his own. The sentient fungi and gaseous exhalation are his own. Finally, it is the manner in which he handles his materials that makes Poe’s tale so highly original. Everything is arranged so that the final horror will be both believable and overwhelming. Like any good showman, Poe knew how to keep his reader in suspense.

The Lady Madeline’s flushed cheek is the first preparation for her eventual appearance at the door. Three times as the narrator is reading to Usher a distant noise is heard, coming closer each time, before the door is finally flung open upon the final horror. A gradual unfolding of plot is the very best of Poe’s art. Now with a better understanding of the writer’s view of the story the reader can more closely relate to the characters thoughts and actions. As through the plot, and the critical analysis towards Edgar Allen Poe’s ” The Fall of the House of Usher. “

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