The first references to physiognomy occur in the narrator’s initial description of Roderick Usher. The narrator discusses almost every distinct area of physiognomy, stating, “an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity .. ade up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten” (Poe, 36).
If the reader is aware of the physiognomic areas, it becomes easy to determine the character of Roderick Usher. Once again, George Combe’s research can be used to identify and relate the physiognomy in “The Fall of the House of Usher. ” According to Combe, there are four temperaments, as he states: “There are four temperaments, accompanied by different degrees of strength and activity in the brain-the lymphatic, the sanguine, the bilious, and the nervous.
The temperaments are supposed to depend upon the constitution of particular systems of the body: the brain and nerves being predominantly active rom constitutional causes, seem to produce the nervous temperament; the lungs, heart, and blood vessels being constitutionally predominant, to give rise to the sanguine; the muscular and fibrous systems to the bilious; and the glands and assimilating organs to the lymphatic” (Whye). The temperament that is most relevant to “The Fall of the House of Usher” is the nervous temperament.
Indicators of this temperament are “fine thin hair, thin skin, small thin muscles, quickness in muscular motion, paleness of countenance, and often delicate health. The whole nervous system, including the brain, is predominantly ctive and energetic, and the mental manifestations are proportionally vivacious and powerful” (Whye). Once again, Poe expects his readers to be able to identify these physiognomical references, as he hints at Roderick Usher’s ‘nervous agitation’ in his letter to the narrator.
The now ghastly pallor of his skin, and the now miraculous luster of the eye, above all things startled and even awed me” (Poe, 36). Once again, this alludes to the nervous temperament, described by George Combe. Additionally, the narrator states that Roderick Usher’s hair presents “a more than web-like softness and tenuity” and “in its ild gossamer texture, it floated rather than fell about the face” (Poe, 36). Poe’s references to physiognomy help to enhance the depth of Poe’s characterizations that provide physical evidence for Roderick Usher’s internal being.
It becomes apparent that the physiognomical references throughout “The Fall of the House of Usher” is extremely relevant to the reader when the narrator states that he had to prepare himself for Roderick Usher’s anguish “no less by his letter, than by reminiscences of certain boyish traits, and by conclusions deduced from his particular physical conformation nd temperament” (Poe, 36). Lastly, Poe reflects melancholic depression in “The Fall of the House of Usher. Melancholic depression is a mental health condition that can be characterized by continuous and extreme feelings of hopelessness and sadness.
This can lead to an effect in a person’s mood or behavior, along with physical functions. People with melancholic depression often lose interest in activities they previously enjoyed. Symptoms of melancholic depression include “having a lack of energy, feeling anxious, difficulty concentration, loss of pleasure in activities, and eelings of despair” (Kerr).
In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” melancholy can be established by the qualities of the atmosphere. The narrator describes the house after he arrives, stating that the clouds hung “oppressively low in the heavens” and he viewed “upon a few white trunks of decayed trees” that surrounded the house (Poe, 32). Upon arrival, the environment of the house of Usher plays an immediate impact on the narrator, as the narrator claims it causes “an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the fter-dream” (Poe, 32).
The narrator states how there are “shadowy fancies” (Poe, 32), and they have power to play an effect on his mood, however analyzing this power is hard to comprehend. Essentially, the narrator believes that external factors have a subtle tendency to affect his mind, however he cannot exactly determine why. This correlation between the internal mind and the external can be related to the relationship between Roderick Usher and his house. At first, Roderick Usher uses “the severe and long- continued illness” and “approaching dissolution.. f a tenderly beloved sister” as the reasoning behind his melancholy.
However, most of his melancholy is due to a different origin: “An influence which some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion, had, by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit – an effect which the physique of the gray wall and turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked down, had, at great length, brought about upon the morale of his existence (Poe, 37). It becomes apparent that the arrangement inside the house of usher had a horrifying and egative impact on those who dwell within.
However, Roderick Usher makes an effort to inform the reader that his melancholy is due to “a constitutional and a family evil, and one for which he despaired to find a remedy – a mere nervous affection” that gets passed on from generations (Poe, 37). The narrator also comments on the generations of the Usher family, stating, “I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had put forth, at no period, any enduring branch; in other words, that the entire amily lay in the direct line of descent” (Poe, 33).
This conveys Poe’s conception of the relationship between mind and matter. It could be concluded that over the generations of the Usher family, the mental anguish causes the house to conform, as the decoration and atmosphere of the house become influenced by mental illness. Poe uses literary effects to relate the atmosphere of the house to the characteristics of the Ushers. For example, Roderick Usher had “dark draperies hung upon the wall” around his room because he claimed that “his eyes were tortured by even a faint ight” (Poe, 35).
Roderick also claims to be affected by the simple smells of nature, such as flowers. Since Roderick allowed his mental state to influence the decor of his household, the narrator states, “I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all” (Poe, 35). The atmosphere of the Usher household rubs off onto the narrator, and is the reasoning behind his feeling of gloom. Thus, further indicating the relationship between mind and matter; how one’s mental condition relates to the external environment.
Edgar Allan Poe believes that there is a strong bond connecting a person’s physical appearance to their internal being. This explains why Poe uses an extensive amount of phrenological and physiognomical references in “The Fall of the House of Usher. ” Poe’s writing indicates the complex relationship and correspondence between a person’s mental state to numerous aspects of the physical world. In addition, Poe attempts to find an understanding of the relationship between mind and matter, ultimately reflecting concepts of mental health and illness in “The Fall of the House of Usher. “