Wide Reading – The Fall of the House of Usher

The Fall of the House of Usher written by Edgar Allan Poe tells a story of an unnamed narrator and his experience with his strange and mysterious boyhood friend Roderick Usher. In this short story there are common gothic elements experienced, such as dark settings and feelings that relate with the house and its atmosphere. The creepy personality of the house and the mysterious sickness that effects Madeline and causes strange behaviour.

‘On a dark and soundless day’ the narrator approaches the evil and diseased atmosphere that surrounds the house of Usher. The narrator finds the outside of the house to be rundown, haunted, evil and the inside of the house to be just as spooky. Once he finds Roderick the narrator notices that he is paler and less energetic than he once was, which is a common trait found in gothic protagonists. Roderick suffers from an “acuteness of the senses,” hyper-sensitivity to light, sound, taste, and sensations he feels that he will die of the fear he experiences. Roderick seems afraid of his own house and his sister Madeline, who is very ill with a mysterious sickness that causes her the loss of control of her limbs that the doctors cannot reverse. Madeline then dies and Roderick decides to bury her temporarily in the tomb below the house, so the doctors don’t find her and dig up her body for scientific examination, since her disease was so strange and uncommon in thought days. Roderick becomes even more uneasy after his sister dies and one night the they both cannot sleep. The narrator decides to read to Roderick to pass the spooky night away. As he reads he hears real life noises that are being described in the story. At first he ignores these sounds, thinking that it is his imagination but they become more distinct and he can no longer ignore them. He also notices that Roderick has slumped over in his chair and is muttering to himself. The narrator approaches Roderick and listens to what he is saying. Roderick reveals that he has been hearing these sounds for days, and believes that they have buried Madeline alive and that she is trying to escape. The wind then blows open the door and Madeline stands there in her blood covered white robes. She attacks Roderick as the life drains from her, and he dies of fear. As the narrator escapes, the entire house cracks along the walls and eventually crumbles to the ground. Therefore the fall of the house of Usher.

“With the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable” The narrator says that he feels shadows are following him, he gets a dark chill as soon as he sights the house. The atmosphere created in this short story is very unsettling and dark. Poe describes the characters as if they cannot move and act freely in the house because of its structure, so when reading this story I assumed that the house has a monstrous character of its own and is controlling the people inside. “I entered the Gothic archway of the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thence conducted me, in silence, through many dark and intricate passages in my progress to the studio of his master.” In this quote the narrator is stating that Roderick is the ‘master’ of the house, like he is controlling it. During the whole time that the narrator is in the house of Usher he is constantly looking over his shoulder, cannot sleep and is paranoid about what is happening with Madeline. It is like he is trapped in the mind of the house and he cannot escape until the house of Usher collapses completely.

The main terror that I got from the story is the vagueness, we cannot say for sure if this story is true of just a dream for the narrator. We are told that he is great boyhood friends with Roderick but he does not know that much about him, he didn’t even know he had a twin sister. We know that he was asked to come and help Roderick but there was not much background information to why. When I was reading this story I struggled to understand what was going on, because of the large words and brief explanation of where the scenes were going on.

I thought this was an interesting story to read, as are most of Edgar Allan Poes works. I often found it quite hard to understand and take in what Poe was trying to get across because of the language used 200 years ago when this was written, but this adds another layer of uncertainty to the reader as we are not 100 percent sure what is happening and whats going to happen. Overall this is a brilliant story as is displays features that every good gothic piece should have, it creates the right tones and moods, has a dark uncertainty about the story line and that characters hold elements that are often shown in gothic protagonists. 

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