Places: The Fall of the House of Usher

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1839

Type of work: Short fiction

Type of plot: Gothic

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Places DiscussedHouse of Usher

House Fall of the House of Usher, Theof Usher. Home of the madman Roderick Usher and his twin sister Madeline. Located in an unspecified place, the house and its bleak surroundings are primarily described in terms of the impressions they create in the narrator’s mind. He is unnerved by the building itself, with its “vacant eye-like windows,” but he takes worse fright from its image reflected in the “black and lurid tarn” which lurks around and beneath it. The house is connected to the surrounding land by a narrow causeway, but the link is tenuous and precarious. The atmosphere above and around the house has been poisoned by the exudations of the tarn, becoming eerie and pestilential.

The house is ancient, its whole exterior being infested by fungal growths. Although it retains its form when the narrator first sees it, he is aware that every individual stone comprising its walls is on the point of crumbling. He also observes an almost imperceptible crack extending in a zigzag fashion from the roof to the foundations.

The storm which precipitates the final destruction of the edifice is manifestly unnatural, originating within rather than without. The vaporous clouds which gather about the turrets of the house are lit from below by luminous exhalations of the tarn. These clouds part just once, as the narrator flees from the house, to display a blood-red moon. It is by the ominous light of that celestial lantern that he sees the narrow crack widen, tearing the house apart from top to bottom so that its debris might collapse entirely into the tarn.

Hallway

Hallway. Entered through a Gothic archway, the hallway has black floors. Its walls are covered with somber tapestries and its corridors decked with creaky relics of ancient arms and armor.

Roderick’s studio

Roderick’s studio. Large but the narrow windows, set high above the floor, let in so little light that it is exceedingly gloomy; it is abundantly, if rather shabbily, furnished and chaotically cluttered with books, musical instruments and Roderick’s phantasmagorical paintings.

Vaults

Vaults. Numerous chambers contained within the walls of the building, in which Roderick’s ancestors are entombed. It is in one of the deepest of these–a cramped, damp and lightless covert used in olden times as a dungeon–that Roderick and the narrator place the body of the seemingly dead Madeline Usher. Following her interment the house becomes noisier than before, even from the viewpoint of the narrator. The hypersensitive Roderick hears the miscellaneous knocks, creaks, and rumbles even more keenly, and the transformations imposed upon them by his vivid imagination are fed back into the fabric of the house.

The frequent use of the castles and mansions that are the centerpieces of most gothic novels to model the troubled minds of their owners was not always as deliberate, but Edgar Allan Poe understood exactly what was going on when such edifices were afflicted by supernatural visitations and battered by storms. No one else had drawn such parallels so minutely, nor mapped the course of a symbolic tempest so accurately.

BibliographyBeebe, Maurice. “The Universe of Roderick Usher.” In Poe: A Collection of Critical Essays. Edited by Robert Regan. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967. Discusses the cosmological theory that underlies “Fall of the House of Usher.” Claims that an understanding of Poe’s Eureka helps the reader understand the story as symbolic drama.Hoffman, Daniel. Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972. A personal study of the mind of Poe, containing an extensive discussion of doubling and desire in “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Argues that the story is a catalog of all Poe’s obsessional themes.May, Charles E. Edgar Allan Poe: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1991. A study of Poe’s development of the short story as a genre; discusses “The Fall of the House of Usher” as an esthetic, self-reflexive fable of the basic dilemma of the artist. Also includes an essay with a reader-response approach to the story by Ronald Bieganowski.Robinson, E. Arthur. “Order and Sentience in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’ ” PMLA 76 (1961): 68-81. One of the most extensive studies of the story; focuses on its underlying pattern of thought and thematic structure.Thompson, G. R., and Virgil L. Lokke, eds. Ruined Eden of the Present. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1981. Contains a debate between G. R. Thompson and Patrick F. Quinn about the psychic state of the narrator in the story.
Categories: Places