The Fall of the House of Usher

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The Fall of the House of Usher

Edgar Allan Poe 1839

Author Biography

Plot Summary




Historical Context

Critical Overview


Further Reading

“The Fall of the House of Usher,” written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1839, is regarded as an early and supreme example of the Gothic horror story, though Poe ascribed the term “arabesque” to this and other similar works, a term that he felt best described its flowery, ornate prose. Featuring supernatural theatrics, which critics have interpreted a number of ways, the story exhibits Poe’s concept of “art for art’s sake,” the idea that a story should be devoid of social, political, or moral teaching. In place of a moral, Poe creates a mood—terror, in this case— through his use of language. This philosophy of “art for art’s sake” later evolved into the literary movement of Aestheticism which eschewed the symbolic and preachy literature of the day—especially in England—in an attempt to overcome strict Victorian conventions. Because of his emphasis on style and language, Poe proclaimed his writing a reaction to typical literature of the day, which he called “the heresy of the Didactic” for its tendency to preach. Condemned by some critics for its tendencies toward Romanticism, a literary movement marked by melodramatic and maudlin exaggerations, “The Fall of the House of Usher” was nevertheless typical of Poe’s short stories in that it presents a narrator thrust into a psychologically intense situation in which otherworldly forces conspire to drive at least one of the characters insane.

Author Biography

Poe was born January 19, 1809, in Boston, Massachusetts. His father and mother were professional actors who at the time of his birth were members of a repertory theater company in Boston. Before he was three years old both of his parents had died, and he was raised in the home of John Allan, a prosperous exporter from Richmond, Virginia. In 1915 Allan took his wife and foster son, whom he never formally adopted, to visit Scotland and England, where they lived for the next five years. While in England, Poe spent two years at the school he later described in the story “William Wilson.”

Returning with his foster parents to Richmond in 1820, Poe attended the best schools available, wrote his first poetry, and, when he was sixteen years old, became involved in a romance which ended when Allan sent him to the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. There Poe distinguished himself academically, but as a result of bad debts and inadequate financial support from Allan he was forced to leave after less than a year. An established discord with his foster father deepened on Poe’s return to Richmond in 1827, and soon afterward Poe left for Boston, where he enlisted in the army for lack of other means of supporting himself and where he also published his first poetry collection, Tamerlane and Other Poems, which the cover stated was “By a Bostonian.” The book went unnoticed by readers and reviewers, and a second collection received only slightly more attention when it appeared in 1829.

That same year Poe was honorably discharged from the army, having attained the rank of regimental sergeant-major, and, after further conflict with Allan, he entered the West Point military academy. However, because Allan would neither provide his foster son with sufficient funds to maintain himself as a cadet nor give the consent necessary to resign from the academy, Poe gained a dismissal by ignoring his duties and violating regulations. He subsequently went to New York City, where his book Poems was published in 1831, and then to Baltimore, where he lived at the home of his aunt, Mrs. Clemm.

Over the next few years, Poe’s first stories appeared in the Philadelphia Saturday Courier, and his “MS. Found in a Bottle” won a cash prize for best story in the Baltimore Saturday Visitor. Nevertheless, Poe was still not earning enough to live independently, nor did Allan’s death in 1834 provide him with a legacy. The following year, however, his financial problems were temporarily alleviated when he went back to Richmond to become editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, bringing with him his aunt and his cousin Virginia, whom he married in 1836. The Southern Literary Messenger was the first of several magazines Poe would direct over the next ten years and through which he rose to prominence as one of the leading men of letters in America. Poe made himself known not only as a superlative author of fiction and poetry but also as a literary critic whose level of imagination and insight had been unapproached in American literature until that time.

While Poe’s writings gained attention in the late 1830s and 1840s, the profits from his work remained meager. He was forced to move several times in order to secure employment that he hoped would improve his situation, editing Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine and Graham’s Magazine in Philadelphia and the Broadway Journal in New York. In addition, the royalties for The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, and other titles were always nominal or nonexistent. After his wife’s death from tuberculosis in 1847, Poe became involved in a number of romances, including the one that had been interrupted in his youth with Elmira Royster, now the widowed Mrs. Shelton. It was during the time they were preparing for their marriage that Poe, for reasons unknown, arrived in Baltimore in late September of 1849. On October 3, he was discovered in a state of semiconsciousness. He died on October 7 without regaining the necessary lucidity to explain what had happened during the last days of his life.

Plot Summary

The story begins with an unnamed narrator approaching a large and dreary-looking estate. As he approaches on horseback, he muses on the images before him, the darkness of the house, the oppressiveness of the clouds above, the eye-like windows, the ragged fissure in the side of the house, the fungi on the walls, and the reflection of it all in a nearby lake. He notes that some parts of the house are crumbling and other parts are not.

He sits astride his horse, thinking about the letter he received that initiated his trip and feeling uneasy about the upcoming visit. He remembers happier times he has had with his friend, Roderick, but now, in the face of the present gloomy surroundings, these seem a distant past. Looking at the house, he makes the connection between the family mansion and the family line, both called The House of Usher (a pun on the word “house” having two different meanings). Roderick and his twin sister, Madeline, are the last members of the family line.

The narrator feels as though he is dreaming, as though these visions were “the after-dream of a reveller upon opium.” This foreshadows Roderick’s behavior later, when the two men meet. He is puzzled by questions about the impending visit that have no answer. “What was it—I paused to think— what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluable.”

He enters the house and a valet shows him to Roderick’s reading room. Roderick is lying on a sofa, but arises to greet him. He looks pale and cadaverous. They exchange greetings, but Roderick’s voice is unsteady and feeble. His demeanor seems more that of one suffering from drunkenness or from the use of opium. Roderick wants his friend to comfort him and share his last days with him. He says he has “suffered much from a morbid acute-ness of the senses.” Only the most gentle stimulus could be endured, no hard food, loud music, strong odors, or bright lights. Only “peculiar sounds, and those from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror” are tolerable. Roderick says he will perish from “this deplorable folly.”

During this conversation Madeline is seen as she passes through a nearby corridor. She takes no notice of them. Roderick explains that she suffers from a malady even more baffling than his own. The physicians have said she would the of “a gradual wasting away of the person, and frequent although transient affectation of a partially cataleptical character.”

After this sighting, her name is not mentioned and she is not seen alive again. The men talk together and engage in artistic endeavors, painting and writing poetry. Roderick composes some ballads, some of which he sings as he accompanies himself on the guitar. One titled “The Haunted Palace,” which Poe published apart from this story, offers a poetic rendition of the life and times of the House of Usher, including a foreshadowing of Roderick’s own death. They pass some additional time together reading fantastic novels and discussing topics of a wild and horrifying nature. One such topic is Roderick’s notion that the stones in his house are alive.

After a week, Roderick announces that Madeline is dead and that he needs assistance in burying her. The narrator agrees to help and they take her body, in a coffin, into a tomb that lies beneath the room in which the narrator has been sleeping. They view Madeline’s body, noting the slight smile on her face and the blush on her cheeks, “Usual in all maladies of a strictly cataleptical character.” They screw the lid tightly onto the coffin and close and seal a large iron door to the tomb.

During the next several days, Roderick’s demeanor changes. He becomes more restless and his visage becomes more pallid. His voice grows more tremulous and he seems to be hiding some deep secret by his peculiar speech.

About the eighth day, the narrator experiences an intense fear and dread. He rationalizes it away by believing that it is just a consequence of staying in drab and dreary surroundings. He cannot sleep, so he dresses and paces about in his apartment. He notices a light under the door and soon Roderick knocks on the door. He enters looking “cadaverously wan” and possessed of “an evidently restrained hysteria in his whole demeanor.” Roderick opens a window to a storm, letting the wind blow violently into the room.

In an attempt to calm Roderick, the narrator takes up a copy of Mad Trist and begins to read. At this point, the narrator hears noises coming from below, in the tomb, but he continues to read. Each of the passages from the novel foreshadows the events of that evening. As the noises get louder, Roderick says, “we have put her living in the tomb.” He springs to his feet and shrieks, “Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door!”

The passageway in the room comes open from a strong gust of wind, and Madeline appears, bloodied and trembling. She lunges forward onto her brother, and they both fall to the floor, dead.

At this, the narrator flees quickly. As he passes over the bridge leading from the house there is a flash, the fissure in the face of the house widens, and the house crumbles “and the deep dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly over the fragments of the House of Usher.”



The unnamed narrator of the story is described as a childhood friend of Roderick Usher’s. However, the narrator notes that he does not know Roderick very well because Roderick’s “reserve had always been excessive and habitual.” The narrator visits the Usher family house after Roderick sends him an emotional letter begging him to come. While he seems skeptical of the supernatural and tries to find rational explanations for the disconcerting things happening around him, the narrator finds himself growing increasingly disturbed by the house and the Ushers. At the end of the story, when both Roderick and Madeline die, he flees and watches the house crumble and fall into a small lake. The narrator has been described as an objective witness to the events in the story, with some suggesting he represents rationality. Others, however, have concluded that he is unreliable and that he may, in fact, have helped Roderick Usher murder his sister, or that the ending of the story is merely his hallucination.

Madeline Usher

Madeline is the twin sister of Roderick Usher and, along with her brother, is one of the only two surviving members of the Usher family. She is terminally ill and suffers fits of catalepsy, meaning she appears rigid and does not move for long periods of time. The narrator of the story, who sees her only briefly before she dies, regards her with “an utter astonishment not unmingled with dread.” When Madeline dies, her brother and the narrator temporarily bury her in a vault on the first floor with “a faint blush upon the bosom and the face” and a “suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip.” At the end of the story, she mysteriously emerges from her tomb, only to the with her brother. Madeline’s fleeting appearance in the story serves to heighten the horror and suspense of the situation. Some critics have suggested that Madeline’s illness is the result of a long history of incestual breeding in the Usher family; others believe that she possesses evil powers and is, in fact, a vampire.

Roderick Usher

Roderick Usher is the last surviving male of the Usher family. Like many of his ancestors, he has an artistic temperament, engaging in such activities as writing and playing music and painting. Described as extremely pale, with weblike hair and dark eyes, he is also a hypochondriac and is unable to tolerate such physical stimulation as bright light, the scent of flowers, and peculiar sounds. Believing that the Usher family estate is evil and that the Usher family is cursed, Roderick lives in a state of constant fear and agitation. When his twin sister Madeline dies, Roderick falls into even deeper despair and, according to the narrator, seems to be “laboring with some oppressive secret.” At the end of the story, Madeline emerges from her tomb, and they both die. Roderick’s anguished mental state and odd behavior have been interpreted in numerous ways. Some have speculated that he is agonizing over the Usher family secret of incest while others have suggested that Roderick represents the troubled artistic temperament. Finally, those who read “The Fall of the House of Usher” as purely a supernatural horror story state that Roderick represents evil.


“The Fall of the House of Usher,” told from the point of view of an unnamed narrator, is the story of twin siblings Roderick and Madeline Usher, the last surviving members of the Usher family.


“The Fall of the House of Usher” addresses the nature and causes of evil. Poe creates an atmosphere of evil in the story through the unnamed narrator’s descriptions of the Usher family home, and of Roderick and Madeline. For example, the house is called a “mansion of gloom”; Roderick is described as having “a ghastly pallor of the skin” and hair of “wild gossamer texture”; and Madeline, who the narrator sees only briefly before she dies, stirs up feelings of dread. Although the narrator is unsettled, shocked, and taken aback by his surroundings from the very beginning of the story, it is not clear what is causing such trepidation. When Roderick attempts to explain the cause of his “nervous agitation,” he states that it is “a constitutional and family evil,” suggesting that he and Madeline are somehow cursed. Some have speculated that the evil behind this “curse” is a long history of incest or family inbreeding within the Usher line and that both Roderick and Madeline are suffering the physical and emotional consequences of behavior almost universally condemned as immoral. Others, however, have stated that the evil permeating the story is of purely supernatural origin and that Roderick’s hysteria is not imagined but is a justifiable reaction to otherworldly forces.

The atmosphere of terror in the story is heightened by the ambiguity of Madeline’s character— she can be viewed with sympathy, because of her illness, or with suspicion. Some critics have even suggested that she is a vampire attempting to sap the life force from Roderick. The narrator also heightens the aura of evil in “The Fall of the House of Usher” because while he tries to view the situation objectively and rationally, despite his increasing feelings of foreboding, he ultimately succumbs to the evil pervading the Usher home. Some critics have, in fact, stated that the narrator himself is evil and that he, along with Roderick, knowingly buried Madeline alive and that he is deliberately trying to deceive the reader about what happened.

Madness and Insanity

The themes of madness and insanity grow from Poe’s depiction of Roderick’s increasingly unstable mental and emotional breakdown. Roderick is afflicted with numerous mysterious maladies. He suffers, as the narrator states, from “a morbid acuteness of the senses,” and he is overwhelmed by feelings of fear and anxiety. Roderick’s agitated mental state is also due, in part, to Madeline’s fatal illness, which causes her to become cataleptic—a state of extreme muscle rigidity and apparent unconsciousness. As the story progresses, Roderick attempts to relate his fear to the narrator and engages in numerous activities—including playing the guitar, creating a disturbing painting, and composing a lyric entitled “The Haunted Palace”—in an attempt to calm himself. He also reads books on the supernatural and the occult. As Roderick becomes increasingly hysterical, both the narrator and the reader are left to speculate on the causes of such strange behavior. It remains unclear, however, if Roderick’s malady is a psychological reaction to an incestual relationship with his sister or if he is, indeed, being possessed by evil forces. Nevertheless, Poe’s portrayal of Roderick’s deterioration raises important questions about the causes, stages, and effects of insanity.


“The Fall of the House of Usher” centers on Roderick Usher and his twin sister Madeline, the last surviving members of the Usher family.


The setting of “The Fall of the House of Usher” plays an integral part in the story because it establishes an atmosphere of dreariness, melancholy, and decay. The story takes place in the Usher family mansion, which is isolated and located in a “singularly dreary tract of country.” The house immediately stirs up in the narrator “a sense of insufferable gloom,” and it is described as having “bleak walls,” “vacant eye-like windows,” and “minute fungi overspread [on] the whole exterior.” The interior of the house is equally dreary, with “vaulted and fretted” ceilings, “dark draperies hung upon the walls,” and furniture that is “comfortless, antique, and tattered.” Roderick is also disturbed by the setting, believing that the house is one of the causes of his nervous agitation. The narrator notes that Roderick “was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for many years, he had never ventured forth.”

Point of View

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is told from the point of view of the unnamed narrator, who, being skeptical and rational, doesn’t want to believe that there are supernatural causes to what is happening around him. Although he tries to tell the reader that Roderick’s anxiety and nervousness are simply symptoms of the latter’s mental anguish, the narrator, and therefore the reader, becomes increasingly

Media Adaptations

  • “The Fall of the House of Usher” was adapted to film in 1952. Directed and produced by Ivan Barnett, this black and white, 70-minute film starred Kay Tendeter as Roderick Usher and Gwen Watford as Madeline Usher and is available from Vigilant distributors. It is generally considered to be apoor adaptation of Poe’s story.
  • Considered one of the best film adaptations of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the 1960 version starred Vincent Price, Myrna Fahey, and Mark Damon and was directed by Mark Corman. It runs 65 minutes and is in color.
  • The story was also adapted to film in 1980. Starring Martin Landau as Roderick Usher and Dimitra Arliss as Madeline Usher, this 101-minute color film was produced by Charles E. Sellier, Jr. and directed by James L. Conway. It is available from Sunn Classic.
  • A dramatization of “The Fall of the House of Usher” was taped in 1965 as part of the “American Story Classics” series. Available from Film Video Library, this adaptation runs 29 minutes and is in black and white.
  • Another dramatization of the story was taped in 1976 by Encyclopaedia Britannica Educational Corporation. Also produced by Britannica in 1976, The Fall of the House of Usher: A Discussion features science fiction writer Ray Bradbury discussing the Gothic traditions of “The Fall of the House of Usher” as well as Poe’s influence on contemporary science fiction.

disturbed as the story progresses. By telling the story from the point of view of a skeptic rather than a believer, Poe increases the suspense as well as the emotional impact of the story’s ending.


Poe uses symbolism—a literary technique where an object, person, or concept represents something else—throughout “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The Usher mansion is the most important symbol in the story; isolated, decayed and full of the atmosphere of death, the house represents the dying Usher family itself. The narrator emphasizes this when he notes that “about the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity—an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the grey wall, and the silent tarn.” The fissure in the house is also an important symbol. Although it is, at first, barely visible to the narrator, it suggests a fundamental split or fault in the twin personalities of the last surviving Ushers and foretells the final ruin of the house and family. Other notable symbols of death and madness are Roderick’s lyric, “The Haunted Palace”; his abstract painting, which is described as a “phantasmagoric” conception by the narrator; and the “fantastic character” of his guitar playing.


Poe uses imagery to create a foreboding atmosphere and to advance his themes in the story. An image is a concrete representation of an object or sensory experience; images help evoke the feelings associated with the object or the experience itself. For example, when the narrator briefly sees Madeline, he states: “The lady Madeline passed slowly through the remote portion of the apartment, and, without having noticed my presence, disappeared. . . . A sensation of stupor oppressed me, and my eyes followed her retreating steps.” Such images contribute to the perception that Madeline is ghostlike and mysterious. When the narrator sees the physician on the stair at the beginning of the story, he notes: “His countenance, I thought, wore a mingled expression of low cunning and perplexity. He accosted me with trepidation and passed on.” This image of the doctor is much more effective than a mere literal description; it underscores the fear and anxiety pervading the Usher home.


“The Fall of the House of Usher” is considered a preeminent example of Gothic short fiction with its focus on such topics as incest, terminal illness, mental breakdown, and death. Gothic fiction generally includes elements of horror, the supernatural, gloom, and violence and creates in the reader feelings of terror and dread. Gothic fiction also frequently takes place in medieval-like settings; the desolate, ancient, and decaying Usher mansion is ideally suited for this story. In addition to creating an atmosphere of dread, Poe, some critics have suggested, incorporated into his story aspects of the vampire tale. J. O. Bailey, for example, contended in American Literature that Madeline is a vampire and that Roderick is fighting her powers “with all he has.”

Historical Context

“The Fall of the House of Usher” was first published in 1839 in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. At a time when most popular literature was highly moralistic, Poe’s stories were concerned only with creating emotional effects. Poe charged that most of his contemporaries were “didactic,” that is, they were preoccupied with making religious or political statements in their writings to the detriment of the fiction itself. His own tales of terror, in which he often depicted the psychological disintegration of unstable or emotionally overwrought characters, were in sharp contrast to the works of more highly praised writers of the time. Because of Poe’s disdain for didactic writing, he was little regarded by the literary establishment in his day.

But despite being dismissed by literary critics, Poe’s tales were instrumental in establishing the short story as a viable literary form. Before his time, such short works were not regarded as serious literature. Poe’s examples of what the short story could accomplish, and his own nonfiction writings about the form, were instrumental in establishing the short story as a legitimate form of serious literature. Poe had a strong influence in popular fiction as well. His tales of terror are considered among the finest ever produced in the horror genre. He also pioneered, some critics say invented, the genre of detective fiction with his story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

During the time Poe was writing, a distinct and mature body of American literature was beginning to develop with the contributions of such authors as Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Fenimore Cooper. Before this time, American readers considered British lit-

Topics for Further Study

  • Examine the lyric “The Haunted Palace” written by Roderick Usher in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and discuss how it reflects Roderick’s mental and emotional state.
  • Read the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and compare and contrast the portrayal of mental breakdown in each story.
  • Poe’s fictional works and critical theories greatly impacted nineteenth-century literature, particularly the French symbolist movement. Research and discuss Poe’s influence on such French writers as Charles Baudelaire and Paul Valery.

erature the only serious literature available. American writers wrote imitations derived from British models. But with the advent of a new group of American writers who were writing about specifically American subjects, settings, and characters, a distinctly American literature began to emerge. Poe was one of the American writers of the time who helped to formulate this national literature.

Critical Overview

While Poe’s works were not widely acclaimed during his lifetime, he did earn respect as a gifted fiction writer and poet, especially after the publication of his poem “The Raven.” After his death, however, the history of his critical reception becomes one of dramatically uneven judgements and interpretations. This was, in part, the fault of Poe’s one-time friend and literary executor R. W. Griswold, who, in an obituary notice bearing the byline “Lud-wig,” attributed the depravity and psychological peculiarities of many of the characters in Poe’s fiction to Poe himself. In retrospect, Griswold’s insults seem to have elicited as much sympathy as

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censure, leading subsequent biographers of the late nineteenth century to defend, sometimes avidly, Poe’s name.

It was not until the 1941 biography by A. H. Quinn, Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Autobiography, that a balanced view was provided of Poe, his work, and the relationship between the author’s life and his imagination. Nevertheless, the identification of Poe with the murderers and madmen of his works survived and flourished in the twentieth century, most notably in the form of psychoanalytical studies by such critics as Marie Bonaparte and Joseph Wood Krutch. Added to the controversy over Poe’s sanity was the question of the value of Poe’s works as serious literature. Among Poe’s detractors were such eminent literary figures as Henry James, Aldous Huxley, and T. S. Eliot, who dismissed Poe’s works as juvenile, vulgar, and artistically debased; in contrast, these same works were judged to be of the highest literary merit by such writers as George Bernard Shaw and William Carlos Williams. Complementing Poe’s erratic reputation among American and English critics was the generally more elevated opinion of critics elsewhere in the world, particularly in France. Following the extensive translations and commentaries of French poet Charles Baudelaire in the 1850s, Poe’s works were received with high esteem by French writers, especially those associated with the late nineteenth-century symbolist movement, who admired Poe’s transcendent aspirations as a poet. In other countries, Poe enjoyed similar regard, and numerous studies have been written tracing the influence of the American author on international literature.

Today, Poe is regarded as one of the foremost progenitors of modern literature, both in its popular forms, such as horror and detective fiction, and in its more complex and self-conscious forms, such as poetry and criticism. In contrast to earlier critics who viewed the man and his works as one, recent criticism has developed a view of Poe as a detached artist who was more concerned with displaying his writing talents than with expressing his feelings. While at one time critics wished to remove Poe from literary history, his works remain integral to any conception of modernism in world literature.


Carl Mowery

Carl Mowery hold a doctoral degree in rhetoric and composition and has taught at Southern Illinois University and Murray State University. In the following essay, he calls “The Fall of the House of Usher” a cerebral story with little physical action and emphasizes the many interpretations the story inspires.

Of the many short stories Edgar Allan Poe wrote, “The Fall of the House of Usher” is likely the most cerebral. There is little action to carry the plot, no trips into a catacomb, no descent into a whirlpool, no crimes to be solved. Everything that occurs is told by the narrator. Despite this lack of physical action, this gothic story has remained one of Poe’s most popular.

In “The Philosophy of Composition” Poe says, “If any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression.” Furthermore, he says, “It appears evident, then, that there is a distinct limit, as regards length, to all works of literary art—the limit of a

Compare & Contrast

  • 1830s: Common belief dictates that odors from water—such as the tarn outside the Usher house— could cause mental illness of the type suffered by Roderick Usher. Few, if any, effective treatments were available for mental illness.

    Today: Better understanding of the physiological causes of mental illness and a variety of medical therapies result in a vast improvement in the way the mentally ill are treated.
  • 1830s: The deceased are commonly laid in-state at home for several days. Funeral homes are rare; families prepare and bury their loved ones themselves.

    Today: Most people the in hospitals and wakes are most often held in churches or funeral homes.
  • 1830s: Travel is difficult, slow, and sometimes dangerous. Railroads are in their infancy and most long distance travel is in horse-drawn wagons. It was not unusual for guests to stay several weeks or for an entire season when invited to a relative’s or friend’s house.

    Today: Improved transportation—including railroads, airplanes, and automobiles—makes longdistance travel easier, while advanced communications technology like telephones and e-mail makes long visits with family and friends less popular than in previous eras.

single sitting—and that, (except in certain cases), it can never be properly overpassed.” Poe developed and refined the genre of the short story based on this philosophy. His effort was so successful that this genre was taken up by authors from France as well as from the United States. This type of fiction is still popular among writers of today.

But if brevity is the rule, then intensity of presentation must accompany it. It is important to note that a short story is more a “style” than a “length,” although most will have less than thirty pages of text. Short stories have few characters and the development of those characters will be limited and sharply focused.

When discussing a short story, or any piece of literature, several options may be considered. These include discussions of plot (the order of the events in the story), theme (what the story means), imagery (descriptions), dialogue (how and what characters say), historical context (its relation to events that occurred when it was written), characterization (who the characters are and how they got that way), literary techniques (the use of puns or binary opposites), and even the reliability of the narrator (is he or she telling the truth?), especially one who is a part of the story itself. In the following discussion two of these options will be examined: the reliability of the narrator and the use of binary opposites.

Since this story is a first person narrative (it is told by a narrator from his, and only his, point of view), we have to make a decision about his reliability. (Remember, the narrator of a story is a creation of the author, NOT the author himself.) During the first passages of the story, the narrator gives us clues to his reliability. As he looks at the house he says that what he sees is more like “the after-dream of a reveller upon opium.” Later, still looking at the house, he says, “Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned . . . the building.” Taking these two statements together, the narrator seems to be dreaming more than dealing with the reality before him. By his own admission, then, his narration must be scrutinized with great care.

Additionally, as the narrator contemplates the purpose of his trip and the mystery that is before him, he says, “What was it—I paused to think— what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation

of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluable.” Later he says, “. . .the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth.” Now, despite his admission that the mystery is beyond solution, he enters the house and attempts to solve it for the reader.

Another aspect of the narrator’s character which is cause for our concern is his shift from telling about Roderick’s madness to revealing his own madness. During their first meeting, he describes Roderick’s manner with the following words: incoherence, inconsistency, excessive nervous agitation, and “lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium.” Alone, these would not describe madness, but together they create the image of madness. Add to this Roderick’s inability to endure harsh sensations of any kind, and we have a more convincing picture of a madman.

The most compelling discussion of this madness comes in the final scene when Roderick comes to the narrator’s room. He enters the room, very agitated, and opens a window to the raging storm. As the narrator reads from the novel Mad Trist Roderick sits sullenly in a chair looking at the door. They both hear noises outside the door and Roderick speaks, “Said I not that my senses were acute?” Roderick explains that he has heard noises from the tomb for several days because of his acute hearing, and, like the narrator in “The Tell-tale Heart,” claims to hear Madeline’s heart beating. In one final cry, he screams, “Madman! I tell you she now stands without the door!” Madeline appears when the door is blown open. She lunges toward him and they fall to the floor, dead.

In these last scenes some of Roderick’s madness is transferred to the narrator. In the beginning the narrator thinks that what he sees is a dream, yet for the first several days he is at the house, he seems sane and in control of his senses. But after Madeline is entombed, the narrator becomes more agitated, just as Roderick does, and on the evening of the “seventh or eighth day” he is so uneasy that he cannot sleep. He is nervous and bewildered but he rationalizes that this is the result of sleeping in a room with drab and gloomy furniture. As the night progresses, he loses more and more control. “An irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame.” The madness ascribed to Roderick is now afflicting the narrator.

As the final scene unfolds, the narrator also claims to hear the noises from the tomb. He dismisses this since the window was still open and there

was a great deal of noise coming from the storm. As he reads more of the novel, Mad Trist, he stops abruptly and says, “I did actually hear. . . a low and apparently distant. . . sound.” By his own admission, the narrator reveals his own acuteness of hearing, an aspect that he uses to define madness in Roderick. Now, the narrator himself has succumbed to the same madness.

Binary opposition is the literary technique of setting two situations, persons, or objects in opposition to one another. Some examples are good and evil, light and dark, open and closed, near and far, or any set of items or concepts that can be reduced to two aspects. Of course, in most situations, things are more involved and complicated than this. But for our purposes, as well as for use in analysis of other literature, the use of binary opposites provides a focal point for discussion. But what is more important than just listing binary oppositions is determining the sense of conflict that the opposites create in the story. (Remember, if there is no conflict in a tale, there is no interest generated by it.)

In “The Fall of the House of Usher” one such binary opposition is the male/female opposition of Roderick and Madeline. This is especially intense knowing that they are twins. To demonstrate how this simple opposition works, imagine how different this story would be if Roderick’s twin had been another male character. The tension of Madeline’s passage through the corner of the apartment (possibly wearing a flowing gown, making her seem ghostlike), of her untimely death, and especially of her return from the tomb, would be lost. Additionally, since the two lived alone in the house, some critics believe that there was an incestuous relationship between them. If they had been brothers, this kind of sexual innuendo would have to include a homosexual relationship. For Poe, writing about that sort of relationship in the early 19th century would have been almost impossible. Therefore, the binary opposition of male/female served Poe well in creating tension and conflict.

Regarding the male/female conflict, we see certain aspects of Roderick that can be called “feminine.” His delicate features, his aptitude for the arts, and his frailty, all add up to a feminine character. Madeline, on the other hand, summons up strength to break the bonds of the tomb and to slay her brother in the final scene. These qualities might be seen as masculine. It is in the subtle shifts in our expectations of the character that tension and conflict are developed. (The aspects of feminine and

What Do I Read Next?

  • Poe’s epic poem “The Raven,” published in 1845, centers on a young scholar who is emotionally tormented by a raven’s ominous repetition of the word “nevermore” in answer to his question about the probability of an afterlife with his deceased lover.
  • Poe’s “Ligeia” is a long poem in which a husband narrates the story of his beautiful dead wife who returns from the grave and assumes the identity of his second wife.
  • “Young Goodman Brown” is a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a contemporary of Poe. Written in 1835, it concerns a newly married Puritan in New England who ventures forth one night against the wishes of his wife, Faith, and encounters several of his neighbors conducting satanic rituals in the woods.
  • Stephen King’s novel The Shining (1977) tells how the evil forces in a remote resort hotel manipulate the alcoholic caretaker into attempting to murder his wife and child.
  • The short story “The Shunned House” by H. P. Lovecraft centers on a house possessed by evil powers. The somewhat Gothic horror story was inspired by “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables, in which a haunted house inflicts terror upon its inhabitants.

masculine should not be misunderstood in sexist or sexual ways. Rather, the broadest stereotypical definition of these terms is desired.)

Another important binary opposition is the difference between sanity and madness. At first the narrator seems to be a sane person going to visit a friend who (he believes) is going mad. During the first meetings he describes Roderick’s personal and psychological weaknesses. Roderick is feeble, shaking, and his voice is unstable. He looks ashen and cadaverous. He is also described as “alternately vivacious and sullen” which is a description of manic depression, a mental illness.

In contrast, the narrator tells of his own calmness and control of the situation. He says that he tried to calm his friend as they painted, wrote poetry and read novels together. Even in the final scene, when Roderick appears to have lost all sanity, the narrator reads to him in a vain attempt to calm the storm in Roderick as well as the storm outside the window. (It is ironic that the narrator tries to soothe his “mad” friend by reading from a novel entitled MadTrist.)

It is the binary opposition of sanity/insanity that is the main focus of this tale. Many critics and students have wrestled with the issue of who is or is not insane in the story. This question rests upon the reliability of the narrator. If the narrator is fully reliable, then it is relatively easy to come to the conclusion that Roderick is mad. But if the narrator is not telling us the truth, or if the narrator is mad himself, then our conclusion will be somewhat less certain. The reader must grapple with the uncertainty along with the narrator. The issue of madness vs. sanity provided Poe with the grist for many of his stories, including “The Tell-tale Heart” and “The Black Cat.”

As we can see, there are a variety of approaches to short story interpretation. None is exclusive of another; they may all contribute to our understanding. We cannot see binary oppositions in Roderick and the narrator without also seeing their characters and character development. We cannot examine the narrator alone without looking at his surroundings. The most important thing in any analysis is to trust the text itself. Two different interpretations may arise from one passage, as long as both derive from the text. We canot make up things, but we may interpret them.

Source: Carl Mowery, for Short Stories for Students, Gale Research, 1997.

J.O. Bailey

In the following essay, Bailey raises several theories about “The Fall of the House of Usher,” one of which is that it is a vampire story, citing as evidence the strange behavior of Madeline and Roderick and how their actions fit the conventions of other vampire tales.

What happens in “The Fall of the House of Usher”? This story contains many suggestions of psychic and supernatural influences upon the feelings of the narrator and the nerves of Roderick Usher. But the influences are not defined. No ghosts appear. Surely, Poe as craftsman intended the story to do what it does, to arouse a sense of unearthly terror that springs from a vague source, hinted and mysterious. Poe stated that his aim in tales of terror was to create “terror . . . not of Germany but of the soul,” or not of the charnel but of the mind. He wrote to Thomas W. White, owner of the Southern Literary Messenger, that tales of terror are made into excellent stories by “the singular heightened into the strange and mystical.” The influences that seem to drive Roderick Usher to madness, to kill him and Madeline, and even to destroy the House are certainly strange and mysterious. They seem rooted in some postulate of the supernatural, but the postulate is concealed. . . .

Roderick seems engaged in a struggle against a power that he feels to be supernatural. Apparently, as in the strange books he reads, he seeks knowledge of this power and how to combat it. He has found some explanations in a quasi-scientific theory about the sentience of vegetable matter. He seeks the help of objective reason by calling upon the narrator, to whom he repeatedly attempts to explain the nature of his invisible foe. But the narrator refuses to believe that the threatening power exists outside Roderick’s imagination. . . .

Hints that may suggest a vampire appear in the first view of the House. The vegetation around the House is dead; though water is usually a symbol of life, the “black and lurid tarn” seems dead. It amplifies the House, reflecting it in “remodelled and inverted images.” The narrator feels “an ici-ness” and “a sickening of the heart.” He sees “about the whole mansion . . . a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible and leaden-hued.” On entering the House, the narrator meets the family physician, whose countenance wears “a mingled expression of low cunning and perplexity.” The physician accosts him “with trepidation.”

Certain details about Roderick Usher seem significant. As a boy in school he displayed a hereditary “peculiar sensibility of temperament.” This sensibility would make Roderick an easy prey to psychic or supernatural influence. His present illness has developed since he has lived in the House, “whence, for many years, he had never ventured forth.” Thus, some influence in the House is suggested. It may be vampiric. Montague Summers’s study of vampire lore states that when a

“In these last scenes some of Roderick’s madness is transferred to the narrator,”

person psychically sensitive even “visits a house which is powerfully haunted by malefic influences. . . a vampirish entity may . . . utilize his vitality,” causing “debility and enervation” in the victim. . . .

Let us turn to the events of the story to discover what [Roderick] possibly knew. As the narrator approaches the House, he observes that the windows are “eye-like.” Roderick’s poem later gives the palace the features of a human head. These suggestions seem to mean that the House itself has some evil, destructive life, manifest in a spirit faintly visible as a vapor. Can it be regarded as a kind of vampire? In vampire lore, places or houses may be possessed: “Even to-day there are places and there are properties in England which owing to deeds of blood and violence . . . entail some dire misfortune upon all who seek to enjoy . . . them.”. . .

Roderick’s symptoms include “a morbid acute-ness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odors of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.” These are specific symptoms of vampiric attack. Vampires, if not always their polluted victims, seldom touch ordinary food. Though some vampires, for instance Ruthven in Polidori’s The Vampyre, wear ordinary clothing, most vampires appear in the garments of the grave. If Poe had vampire lore in mind, why did he say “the odors of all flowers”? We may look first at odors. Disgusting odors are associated with vampires. A vampire’s breath is “unbearably fetid and rank with corruption, the stench of the charnel.” This is the very material Poe rejected. The House draws vitality instead of blood; flowers seem a similar substitute for heightening the gory into the strange and mysterious. Poe’s “all flowers” had to be left vague. If Poe had mentioned garlic and its whitish flower, universally accepted specifics against vampirism, he would have given away the secret he sought to suggest, but conceal. It seems significant that Poe mentions flowers at all. No garden can grow near the House; no flowers would be ordered from a tenant or a market if Roderick finds them oppressive. The mention seems Poe’s tauntingly deliberate effort to be faithful to the lore he was using, without defining it. Perhaps the odors of flowers were “oppressive,” rather than welcome to ward off attack, because Roderick was already polluted to the extent that he shared the aversions of the vampire. Most vampires cannot endure daylight; they must return to the tomb at the first hint of dawn. Roderick’s horror of all sounds except those of stringed instruments seems natural for anyone who senses the presence of a demon. Poe often associates stringed instruments with angelic forces.

After detailing his symptoms, Roderick cries out: “I must perish in this deplorable folly.” What folly? for none is mentioned. Perhaps his folly is that, through living as a recluse in the House and through curious reading, Roderick had laid himself open to attack. A “Vampire was often a person who during his life had read deeply in poetic lore and practised black magic.” Roderick says, “I dread the events of the future, not in themselves, but in their results.” Perhaps he does not dread death, but fears becoming a vampire if killed by a vampire.

At this point Roderick states—specifies—that the attack upon his vitality comes from the House. The narrator, reporting with scorn, says: “He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted . . . in regard to an influence . . . which some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion had . . . obtained over his spirit—an effect which the physique of the gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they looked down, had . . . brought about upon the morale of his existence.”

Madeline seems a victim of the same attack, and she dies. When? On the evening of the first day Roderick tells the narrator “with inexpressible agitation” that Madeline had “succumbed . . . to the prostrating power of the destroyer.” But she is not declared dead, that she “was no more” and is ready for burial, until several days later. Perhaps in the interval she is undead, “living” as a vampire. All definitions say that a person killed by a vampire becomes a vampire with a craving to pass on the pollution. . . .

During the entombment, the narrator notices a “striking similitude between the brother and sister.” Roderick explains that he and Madeline “had been twins” and that “sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them.” What were these sympathies? T. O. Mabbott has stated, I think rightly, that “Poe’s twins share their family soul with the house, and Roderick knew it.” If Madeline was destroyed by the House, she is now a vampire; a vampire attacks first its closest blood-kin. A French writer on vampire lore, Augustin Calmet, says: “Cette persecution ne s’arrete pas a une seule personne; elle s’etend jusqu’a la derniere personne de la famille.” This feature of vampirism is presented in Lord Byron’s “The Giaour.” A curse dooms an Infidel to become a vampire and to

. . . suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife
At midnight drain the stream of life?

Thus, just because he is a twin, Roderick has reason to be terrified of Madeline. . . .

If Madeline were an ordinary vampire buried in a cemetery, she could dematerialize, escape through crevices, and rematerialize. But how could she escape from a sealed coffin in an airtight vault closed and secured by an iron door? I suggest that Poe established these seemingly impossible conditions because he had in mind a supernatural agency in Madeline’s escape. If she is now a vampire killed by the House and therefore the agent of the House, the House might help set her free. To do so, it seems, required the total vitality of the House, with added draughts from Roderick’s life, all redoubled in power by the full moon, and engaged in the violent effort manifested in the storm. How could the House help set her free? Let us observe below how it opened heavy doors for her to reach Roderick.

Roderick hears her approach and asks, “Is she not hurrying to upbraid me for my haste?” He may mean his haste in sealing her in the vault before his own death. Perhaps Roderick knows that when he dies—if he can the before Madeline sucks his blood—the House and Madeline must also the in “final death-agonies.”

As Madeline approaches with a “heavy and horrible beating of her heart,” typical of the vampire, Roderick speaks in his “gibbering murmur, as if unconscious of [the narrator’s] presence.” What is he saying? Perhaps part of his monologue is an incantation from the Vigilia. When Madeline reaches the “huge antique panels” of the chamber, she simply stands there waiting. The doors open. The narrator says, “It was the work of the rushing gust.” How can this be? These doors face the interior of the House, not the storm outside. The casement has been closed. This gust may be the spirit of the vampire House, rooted in Madeline’s vault, and manifest in the forces of the storm. When the doors of the chamber throw “slowly back . . . their ponderous and ebony jaws,” between these jaws stands the “lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline of Usher,” with “blood upon her white robes.” Are these images a symbolist painting: between the jaws of the vampire House stands its white and bloodstained tooth poised to plunge into Roderick’s life-stream?

For a moment, Madeline “remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold.” Perhaps she wavered between remnants of human compassion aided by Roderick’s incantations, and the evil power driving her onward. But she “then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.” Was Roderick’s death heart failure? The narrator does not stop to observe: he “fled aghast.” But the somewhat erotic embrace of its victim, the prone position for the kill, and the moan of pleasure are commonplaces of vampire lore. In terms of this lore, Madeline reached the jugular vein. But as Roderick dies, Madeline and the House die, for their source of vitality is cut off. Does Roderick continue undead, a vampire by pollution, as “he had anticipated”? When a vampire is destroyed, it squeals or screams horribly. As the fragments of the House sink into the tarn, there is a “shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters.” Perhaps, as both Madeline and the House the in the instant of Roderick’s death, the curse is fulfilled, and Roderick’s soul is, after all, saved by the finally innocuous water. The narrator observes no more except the “full, setting, and blood-red moon.”. . .

Source: J.O. Bailey, “What Happens in ’The Fall of the House of Usher,”’ in American Literature, Vol. XXXV, No. 4, January, 1964, pp. 445-66.

Lynne P. Shackelford

In the following brief essay, Shackelford comments on the relationship between Henri Fuseli’s painting, The Nightmare, and Poe’s story.

In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe entices his readers to view the narrator’s experiences as a dream. Many critics have noted the tale’s iterative images of water, mist, sleep, and descent, connoting the subconscious, as well as the explicit verbal clues Poe provides in such passages as “I looked upon the scene before me . . . with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the afterdream of the reveller upon opium . . ., “Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream . . .,” and “. . . I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild improvisations of his speaking guitar.” No critical attention, however, has yet been given to the significance of Poe’s allusion to the eighteenth-century artist John Henry Fuseli.

Describing the paintings of Roderick Usher, Poe’s narrator observes:

If ever mortal painted an idea, that mortal was Roderick Usher. For me at least—in the circumstances then surrounding me—there arose out of the pure abstractions which the hypochondriac contrived to throw upon his canvas, an intensity of intolerable awe, no shadow of which felt I ever yet in the contemplations of the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of Fuseli.

Why did Poe choose Fuseli as the one artist with whom to compare Usher? The answer is that Fuseli shared Poe’s preoccupation with the realm of the subconscious. Indeed, he based his career upon his oft-cited aphorism: “One of the most unexplored regions of art are dreams. . . .”

The work upon which Fuseli’s fame rests and the work which Poe evokes in his tale is The Nightmare, which the artist painted in 1781 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in London. The Nightmare is an unforgettable, to many viewers even shocking, canvas composed of three key elements: a beautiful woman, dressed in virginal white, lying prostrate upon a bed; an incubus, or demon, crouched maliciously upon the woman’s breast; and a horse’s head with fiery eyes emerging from a shadowy background. Intending to depict a general rather than an individual experience of the bad dream, Fuseli combines evil spirits from Germanic folklore with an Enlightenment medical belief that the nightmare is caused by sleeping on one’s back. This position creates a difficulty in circulation that induces frightful visions and a feeling of weight upon the chest.

That Poe knew Fuseli’s painting is highly likely. The exhibition of The Nightmare became a cause celebre. Soon engravers disseminated prints of it throughout Europe and then America, while cartoonists amused the public with their vulgarized burlesques of Fuseli’s demon-tormented sleeper. However, it is the text of “The Fall of the House of Usher” that provides the most compelling evidence of Poe’s familiarity with Fuseli’s composition; for shortly before the appearance of the specter-like

“Why did Poe choose Fuseli as the one artist with whom to compare Usher? The answer is that Fuseli shared Foe’s preoccupation with the realm of the subconscious.”

Madeline, arisen from the crypt, Poe’s narrator assumes the exact position of Fuseli’s dreaming damsel. Retiring to his sleeping apartment—a chamber directly above the vault in which Madeline has been buried, the narrator rests fitfully. He then reveals, “An irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame; and, at length, there sat upon my heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm.” This description of a demon upon the narrator’s breast and his subsequent feeling of “an intense sentiment of horror” suggest strongly that his final vision of Madeline and Roderick’s embrace of death is, in fact, a nightmare.

Source: Lynne P. Shackelford, “Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,”’ in Explicator, Vol. 45, No. 1, Fall, 1986, pp. 18-9.

Further Reading

Abel, Darrel. “A Key to the House of Usher,” in University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. XVII, No. 2, January, 1949, pp. 176-85.

Abel talks about the setting of “’The Fall of the House of Usher,” and how the themes of isolation and self-destructive concentration are symbolized by the character of Roderick Usher.

Baym, Nina. “The Fall of the House of Usher,’ Character Analysis,” in The Norton Anthology of American Literature, W. W. Norton, 1995, p. 664.

Baym offers a brief analysis of the three characters and their mental disorders.

Bieganowski, Ronald. “The Self-consuming Narrator in Poe’s ’Ligeia’ and Usher’,” in American Literature, Volume 60, No. 2, May, 1988, pp. 175-87.

Bieganowski shows how the narrators in these two tales become enamored of their own rhetoric and therefore fail to tell the tale in the complete manner they intend. They fail because their desire to tell their story in the most ideal manner possible overwhelms the story itself.

Brennan, Matthew C. “Turnerian Topography: The Paintings of Roderick Usher,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Volume 27, Fall, 1990, pp. 605-8.

Brennan argues that Poe’s descriptions of Roderick’s paintings show a strong similarity to the paintings of Englishman Joseph Turner. He believes that both Poe and Turner reject the realist’s approach to their art in favor of a more vague, expressionist approach called the “sublime style.”

Brooks, Cleanth, Jr. and Robert Penn Warren. “The Fall of the House of Usher,” in their Understanding Fiction, New York, F.S. Crofts & Co., 1943, pp. 202- 5.

Reduces ’“The Fall of the House of Usher” to a “relatively meaningless” horror story which serves principally as a case study in morbid psychology and lacks any quality of pathos or tragedy.

Evans, Walter. “The Fall of the House of Usher’ and Poe’s Theory of the Tale, “in Studies in Short Fiction, Volume 14, No. 2, Spring, 1977, pp. 137-44.

Evans contends that there are significant discrepancies between Poe’s theory of the tale and his literary practice as exemplified by “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

May, Leila S. “Sympathies of Scarcely Intelligible Nature: The Brother-Sister Bond in Poe’s “’Fall of the House of Usher’,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Volume 30, Summer, 1993, pp. 387-96.

May makes the relationship of the Ushers and their fall a symbolic representation of the fall of the family in the 19th century.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Philosophy of Composition” in Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe, edited by Edward H. Davidson, Houghton, 1956, pp. 452-61.

Poe outlines his philosophy of literary composition, discussing the proper length and content of literary works.

Rout, Kay Kinsella. “The Unreliable and Unbalanced Narrator,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Volume 19, Winter, 1982, pp. 27-33.

While this article is more about John Gardner’s story, “The Ravages of Spring,” Rout compares the narrator in it to the narrator of “Usher.” She sees both as unreliable and emotionally unbalanced.

Voloshin, Beverly R. “Explanation in ’The Fall of the House of Usher’,” in Studies in Short Fiction, Volume 23, Fall, 1986, pp. 419-28.

Voloshin argues that the story is a turning point in the development of the Gothic tale in the hands of Poe. She says it contains all the necessary ingredients: romance, mystery, darkness, supernatural, decay, a corpse, and even vampirism.

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