The Fall of the House of Usher is written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1839. This short story has all the elements of a Gothic tale. Gothic tale had its early development in the 18th century. The Castle of Otranto published in 1764 marked the beginning of this style in writing. A Gothic story characteristically has supernatural events over which man has no control. There are gloomy houses, monsters or ghosts, curses, damsels in sorrow, romance, intense sentiments and lots of madness too. The Fall of the House of the Usher which was published in 1839 has all these elements and makes gripping reading till the end.
About the Playwright
Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19th 1809 in Boston. Very early in life he was orphaned because his father left him and his mother died early. He was taken in by John and Frances Allan. He was not very disciplined so he always had problems with John. He enlisted in the army but soon found that his interest was in writing. He was best known for his poetry and short stories. He is considered as the inventor of the detective fiction and also contributed to science fiction. Poe’s work influenced the literary circles of United States and other places as well. The Mystery Writers of America has constituted an award as the Edgar Award for writers who contribute work in the mystery genre.
The narrator of this story is unnamed but is the childhood friend of Roderick Usher. Roderick writes to the narrator stating that he was sick and wanted his help. So the narrator reaches the Usher mansion to take care of Roderick. From the time he sees the house there is a sense of sadness in him. “There was a coldness, a sickening of the heart, in which I could dis- cover nothing to lighten the weight I felt.” Meeting his friend did not lessen this miserable feeling. He saw a pale and frightened Roderick whom the narrator was not familiar for as a young boy he was healthy and cheerful. Yet it was not completely surprising because he had received the letter indicating that Roderick was physically and emotionally ill. The inside of the house too was dark and dreary. In short there was nothing to cheer about in the Usher household.
The other person in the household was Lady Madeline who was afflicted with a disease from which no doctor could redeem. The picture was now completer for the narrator- the house, inside out, and the family members had reached a point of no return. The house would crash down so would the lives and Roderick. The narrator who came for friendship’s sake was terrified but he tried to bring ij some cheer with his songs, chats and reading. One day Roderick announces to the narrator that Lady Madeline is dead and that she would be put in a vault for a few days. The reason was strange- “He had decided to do this because of the nature of her illness, because of the strange interest and questions of her doctors, and because of the great distance to the graveyard where members of his family were placed in the earth.”
There were two things that the narrator notices that day. One was the similarity in looks between the brother and sister and they were twins he got to know. But the strange fact he realised was that the Lady did not look dead or feel dead. She was “soft and warm”. However she is put in a vault and locked. Following this were days of heightened misery as Roderick could not bear to hear any sound. Narrator tries to pacify by reading. Strangely as he read the sounds described in the book were being actually heard and erelong Roderick spoke in a low voice, “We have put her living in the vault! ….. I heard her first movements many days ago — yet I did not dare to speak! And now, that story — but the sounds were hers! Oh, where shall I run?” True enough Lady Madeline comes into the room bleeding after her struggle to escape the vault. She moves towards Roderick and falls on him. With that fall Lady Madeline and Roderick die. The narrator escapes from the mansion and as moves away he sees and hears the House of Usher crashing down.
The main characters of the story are the narrator and Roderick. Though Lady Madeline takes the centre stage in the end, she does not figure in the story as a person from the beginning. Roderick and Madeline are twins and are suffering physically and mentally. The narrator is different but is influenced by the surroundings he walks into.
Nothing is known about the narrator. He is a childhood friend of Roderick Usher. He comes with the intention of helping Roderick but is unable to do much. In the process of bringing sanity to the Usher household it seems the narrator might lose his sanity.
Roderick along with his sister were the last living person of the house of Usher. The family was known for being charitable and patrons of arts but had a lineage of people who were mentally disturbed. At the beginning when the narrator meets him, Roderick is on the verge of mental illness. But he could still play guitar and he was man who was well read. He is happy to see his old friends but his fears and disturbances kept increasing and when he realises his sister was entombed alive he becomes completely mad and finally dies.
All that we see about the Madeline is that she is a sick woman but Roderick loved his sister a lot.
The setting of the story is the house of the Usher which is huge and eerie. The crack that runs from the roof to the floor is indicative of the situation inside. The dead trees, the dead lake, empty eye-like windows, gray walls gave the narrator the feeling “I was now going to spend several weeks in this house of sadness — this house of gloom.”
Themes and Motifs
Love and hate is a predominant theme in this story. Roderick loves his sister yet hates her because she is the cause of his suffering too. The narrator also wants to help Roderick but is fearful of all that is happening there. Death is impending in the lesson. We know for sure that Roderick and his sister would die in the end and the narrator escapes in time is a matter of relief for the reader. With the crash of the house the curse of the house seems to have ended but with it ended the dynasty of the Ushers.