The Fall Of The House By Poe English Literature Essay

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1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this

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To begin with, Poe is well known for his mastery of the gothic genre -which was popular in the 18th century and early 19th century by British writers such as Horace Walpole and Mary Shelley, Gothic literature has a number of conventions, including evocations of horror, suggestions of the supernatural, and dark, exotic locales such as castles and crumbling mansions. Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher” is a clear example of the gothic story because its settings indicate or make one feel the gloominess and the horror of the place; the opening line begins like “during the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day”(1). From the beginning, it gives the sense of darkness and ambiguity. It gives a place that correspondence between the internal and the external. Such unity makes the writer one of the pioneers who give the story itself a unique and rare style. Another example is the feeling of the narrator of the story who at arriving in the palace “a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit”(1). In this sense we find a description is so beautifully introduced by Edgar Allan Poe.

What Gothic conventions does Poe use in this tale? He uses many gothic techniques in his story. First, Poe describes the general atmosphere and the weather as dull, soundless day… such mood leads one to suffer from a stress and despair. Add to that the way that starts the story summons his pessimistic view of life from the beginning. Another technique is the description of the landscape that surrounds the building “gazed down but with a shudder even more thrilling than before upon the remodeled and inverted images of the gray sedges, and the ghastly tree-stems”(2), from this instance I can resume that it is a frightening image. So right from the begging the writer prepares us, readers, psychologically to a gloomy and depressing atmosphere. Add, his reference to the windows of the palace as “the vacant and eye-like windows”(1) is on purpose of making us touch the saddening and depressing environment all around the place. And that brings our emotions to the upper level and makes us gratify to the story in a strange and sole manner. We can find “in this mansion of gloom” in every single line a reference of gloom, darkness, despair, and autumnal kind of atmosphere. We can also find the settings personified as a human being. In the deep sense of words this unity of internal and external is “shaking off from my spirit what have been a dream”(4). In a way that lead us to ” a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of tarn” and that zigzag settings is what made the story mirrors Poe’s views. As a consequence, all these techniques corporate altogether to create the general gothic frame in the story in order to embody the idea of decaying and death in the sequence of the events, and to serve the writer’s plot. And a it enhances Poe’s psychological collapse, the strange relationship between settings and surroundings, and the human being.

There is much attack on the transcendentalism concept which was followed by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melvin, Nathaniel Hawthorne plus Edgar Allan Poe. Transcendentalism is a movement that glorifies the brightness and color of life. Furthermore, The Transcendentalists were loosely bound together by adherence to an idealistic system of thought based on a belief in the essential unity of all creation, the innate goodness of humankind, and the supremacy of vision over logic and experience for the revelation of the deepest truths, and it came as a reaction against Puritanism (Empiricism) movement which believes in Original Sin. Although Poe was a transcendentalist, he attacks the Transcendentalism in his short story ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ which represents a continuous opposition to the transcendentalist views. The mockery of the transcendentalist views are found through the characters, the environment, and the house; instead of light and life, Poe displays a continuation of darkness and death. Besides an atmosphere ” enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted”(8). The complete decay of Usher is found in the house when it falls down and sinks into the dark tarn. Poe views the transcendentalist thoughts as much too bright and unrealistic, and the ultimate transcendence downward displays his opposite opinions. The decaying mind of Usher, the gloomy environment, and the downward structure of the house, all work together to destroy the traditional bright transcendentalist ideas and to complete the final ‘Fall of the House of Usher.’ Usher finds his transcendental connection with the oversoul but instead of brightness he finds gloom with black, white and gray colors. His reaction to the movement and its ideas may be owed to his feeling of loneliness, the dark life, and in first place his mother death.

There are three significant characters in this tale: the narrator, Roderick and Madeline Usher. The narrator is a childhood friend of Roderick Usher. He has not seen Roderick since they were children. However, upon an urgent letter that he received from Roderick which requested his aid, the nameless narrator decides to make the long journey “it was the apparent heart that went with his request… which allowed me no room for hesitation”(2)

Roderick and Madeline are the sole, remaining members of the long, time-honored Usher race. When Madeline supposedly “dies” and is placed in her coffin, the narrator notices “a striking similitude between brother and sister…”(17) it is at this point that Roderick informs his friend that he and the lady Madeline had been twins, and that “sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them”(7). Due to limited medical knowledge or to suit his purposes here, Poe treats Madeline and Roderick as if they were identical twins (two parts of one personality) instead of fraternal twins. He implies that Roderick and Madeline are so close that they can sense what is happening to each other. This becomes an important aspect in the unity of effect of this particular story.

Poe’s literary skill is readily apparent in ‘The fall of the House of Usher, ‘and one of his most vivid techniques is the story’s tone. Poe chooses details that highlight the terror of near madness, premature burial, and death and destruction. Foremost is his description of the gloomy Usher house, and the fissure that seems to extend from the house’s roof to the “sullen waters of the tarn”(5). Equally important in setting the tone is the violent storm on a night that is “singular in its terror and beauty”(20).The thunder crashes, the lightning bolts flash, and the wind howls as Madeline makes her way from the tomb to the door of Roderick’s study. Roderick’s and Madeline’s deaths are further heightened as the narrator notes that the “blood-red moon…now shone vividly through the once barely discernible fissure.”(26)

Another literary device used masterfully by Poe is foreshadowing. Roderick’s terrible fate is foretold in the description of the house that totters on the brink of collapse. The details of the bleak exterior prepare the reader for the description of the house’s interior and of Roderick and Madeline Usher. Two other foreshadowing devices are Roderick’s painting of a vault which eventually becomes Madeline’s tomb and the narrator’s reading of Sir Lancelot Canning’s “Mad Trist,” the plot of which coincides with Madeline’s return from the tomb.

Poe also reinforces the story’s plot and theme with symbolism. The most obvious symbol is the Usher house, which stands now in the stark contrast to its once vibrant history, a history alluded to in “The Haunted Palace.” The house windows, fungi, and fissure suggest Roderick’s rapidly decaying physical and mental states. By extension, Madeline’s barren womb also symbolizes the Usher lineage; when he dies, it will indeed be the fall of the house of Usher.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” illustrates Poe’s critical doctrine that unity of effect depends on tone. Every detail of this story, from the opening description of the dank tarn and the dark rooms of the house to the unearthly storm which accompanies Madeline return from tomb, helps to convey the terror that overwhelms and finally destroys the fragile mind of Roderick Usher.

Terror, even to this extreme which results in madness and death, is meaningless unless it is able to somehow illustrate a principle of human nature. Besides the fact that Roderick and Madeline are not just twins but represents the mental and physical components of a single being or soul, there is also a connection between the family mansion and the remaining members who live within. Poe uses the phrase” House of Usher” to refer to both the decaying physical structure and the last of the family. Roderick has developed a theory that the stones of the house have consciousness, and that they embody the fate of the Usher family:

He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence for many years, he had never ventured forth. (8-9)

In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe explores the inner workings of the human imagination but, at the same time, cautions us as readers about the destructive dangers within. When fantasy suppresses reality and the physical self, as in Roderick’s case, what results is madness and mental death. Madeline’s return and actual death reunites the twin natures of their single being, claiming Roderick as a “victim to the terrors that he had anticipated.”(26)

The true focus of this story is the narrator’s reaction to and understanding of these strange events. Even to look into the dark imagination where fantasy becomes reality is to evoke madness. That is why Roderick twice refers to the narrator as “Madman” in the final scene. Thus the narrator made a journey into the underworld of the mind and is nearly destroyed by it; however, he manages to escape and turns to watch as “House of Usher” crumbles into “…the deep and dank tarn.”(26)

The last question that I attempt to answer is why Poe uses all such techniques and symbols? Because, in my point of view, Poe wants to deliver a message that after the industrial revolution the world shall disintegrate and turn to be world-like gothic that is mild and dreary. Not just that but with scrutinized eye , I did not find any tract or mention of religion in the story and this again on purpose to reflect people who have no faith in god after Niche declaration the death of god, which misunderstood by people.

All in all, Poe was one of the prominent American writers who was and still shining in the world of literature. With the end of the story, Poe goes to rest and have a nap leaving us to interpret his work personally. However, his use of horror or gothic theme and unit of effect is out of his abhorrence of didacticism. For him, literature should provide first and foremost aesthetic pleasure.

Wanderers in that happy valley

         through two luminous windows saw

      Spirits moving musically

         to a lute’s well-tuned law,

      Round about a throne, where sitting

         (Porphyrogene!)

     In state his glory well befitting,

         the sovereign of the realm was seen (13).

Finally, with those lines from The Haunted Palace, I can say that ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ in my opinion stands next to none, because it has unique characteristics that make it a shining star.

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