A review of the novel “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allen Poe
The Fall of the House of Usher is definitely a piece written in Poe’s usual style; a dark foreboding tale of death and insanity filled with imagery, allusion, and hidden meaning. It uses secondary meanings and underlying themes to show his beliefs and theories without actually addressing them. It convinces us without letting us know we’re being convinced, and at the same time makes his complex thoughts relatively clear. On the literal level the story is about a man (the narrator) visiting his boyhood friend who is suffering from “acuteness of the senses”. His friend, Roderick Usher, sent for him in hopes that his friend might afford him solace. Though his mental problems were a large part of his sorrow, most of it was due to his sister’s illness.
Much of the narrator’s time at The House of Usher was spent reading philosophical books with Usher, apparently a great hobby of them both. One evening Usher came to the narrator and informed him “that the lady Madeline [Usher’s sister] was no more.” (212) He also informed him of his intentions of keeping her corpse for a fortnight in one of the many vaults in the house. Having no wish to oppose his wishes, the narrator helps him entomb the body at Usher’s request. The mood in the house has worsened, and Usher is no longer himself. The narrator finds him ranting about the storm, and he explains to him its only a natural phenomenon, and turns to their earlier hobby of reading to distract him. He chooses the Mad Trist, which is apparently a story completely created by Poe (and is definitely in his style).
It is a story of a Hero, Ethelred, who forcibly enters the home of a hermit and finds a dragon in his place. During his telling of the story, the narrator hears noises but dismisses them as coincidence. As he continued the sounds began to get louder, and eventually Usher speaks, “yes, I hear it, and have heard it … We have put her living in the tomb!” At this point the reader still thinks Usher is mad and is hearing his sister in death (as did the character in The Tell Tale Heart), but soon that theory is disproven when the lady Madeline does indeed still live and enters the room killing her brother. The narrator flees at the sight of this and soon after the House of Usher collapses. This story is full of hidden and upper current, or as Poe says “mystic current”, meanings. One of Poe’s largest uses of secondary meaning in this story is the poem Usher reads entitled The Haunted Palace. The poem shows the background story and makes a connection between the house and its inhabitants.
“Once a fair and stately palace – Radiant palace – reared its head.” (211,I) This is describing the past of the Usher House when it was in a better situation. But as time went by, the house has deteriorated as have the emotions of the people in it. This is shown in the poem in the following line, “But evil things, in robes of sorrow, Assailed the monarch’s high estate.” (211,V) And this is exactly what happens in the house, the inhabitants are full of sorrow. Another use of upper current meanings in Poe’s tale is in the many stories the two read. They seem to suggest a theme of an evil presence. They are mostly based on topics like death, heaven and hell, and similar philosophical works. These stories, and the poem as well, only reinforce the situation Usher is trying to escape from. Everything the narrator does in attempt to solace him only reaffirm the truth that Usher probably knew deep down, there was no way he could escape his troubles. Poe had a very interesting cosmology, and it can be seen hidden in the story. There are two main beliefs in Poe’s cosmology, the first is that, “[the universe] has come about through God’s breaking-up of His original unity, and His self-radiation into space.” (181)
This theory is symbolically shown in the actual House of Usher itself. The narrator remarks that “there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones.” (208) This analogy places the house as the caretaker or protector of the people in it, and the individual stones as the separate pieces of god. There is one other important theory in Poe’s cosmology. According to the text “God, in creating the universe, fragmented Himself into His creatures”. (181) This thought is emphasized in the story by the use of the term “House of Usher”. This term refers to “both the family and the family mansion.” (208) Both parts are one, the house and the family (or according to the analogy, god and all of us). This story gives us a way to understand Poe’s complicated view of the universe without us even being aware he’s doing it. It explains ungraspable concepts and ideas, and gives them physical forms. This way we can better understand how the different parts of his belief interact with each other. And looking at the parts as a whole, with the help of Poe’s many analogies, his beliefs are very clear and very convincing.