Literature / The Fall Of The House Of Usher

"The Fall of the House of Usher" is one of the most famous stories written by the father of Gothic Horror (in America, at least), Edgar Allan Poe. It was originally published in September 1839.

An unnamed narrator arrives at the creepy, dank, decaying old castle occupied by siblings Roderick and Madeline Usher, after receiving a letter from Roderick asking for his help. He finds that the Ushers are not well. Roderick is feverish and has extreme anxiety, and is also a victim of hyperesthesia (overly acute senses). His sister Madeline is also chronically ill, and subject to attacks of catalepsy. Eventually Madeline dies, and Roderick and the narrator bury her in the family crypt, but an oppressive fear still hangs over the Usher castle...

"The Fall of the House of Usher" is one of Poe's best remembered stories. It has been adapted many times for film, including a 1928 American silent short film, a 1928 French feature film, and a famous 1960 Roger Corman production starring Vincent Price. Bethany Griffin based her 2014 book, The Fall, off of this short story.


Tropes:

  • Blood-Splattered Wedding Dress: It isn't a wedding dress, but rather funeral robes, but still, Madeline's dress is stained with blood from the exertion of climbing out of her coffin.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: The narrator states directly that the Usher family tree does not fork. Roderick's unnatural fixation on his sister and the unnatural closeness between them strongly hint at this. Some adaptations like the 2006 Gruselkabinett radio drama outright state that this is the case.
  • Buried Alive: Roderick really should have been more careful with Madeline, no?
  • Chekhov's Gun: Roderick's hyperacute senses. He reveals at the end that he's been hearing Madeline scratch away at her coffin for some time. And see below under Foreshadowing.
  • Composite Character: The footman and valet are composed into one character, Briggs, in the German radio drama.
  • Disease Bleach: Roderick's hair has grown white due to his prolonged illness.
  • Double Meaning Title: The story is about the downfall of the House of Usher (that is, the aristocratic Usher family), and about the literal fall of their ancestral mansion, which collapses and sinks into the Earth.
  • Empathic Environment: A storm strikes on the night that Madeline climbs out of her coffin.
  • Faux Death: Unfortunately for her, Madeline suffers an attack of catalepsy, going into a death-like trance.
  • Foreshadowing: Besides all the other creepy things he observes about the house, the narrator notices a hairline crack extending from top to bottom.
  • Genius Loci: Roderick believes that his house is alive, that the moss and masonry have combined to create a living organism. The ending suggests that he's right.
  • Gothic Horror: "I had so worked upon my imagination as really to believe 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 gray wall, and the silent tarn a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued."
  • Gratuitous French: Opens with an epigraph in French that translates as "his heart is a suspended lute, as soon as it is touched, it resounds".
  • Hates Being Touched: Roderick, due to his Super Senses.
  • Impoverished Patrician: The Ushers are broke.
  • In the Blood: It's strongly implied that some inherent defect in the Usher blood, probably caused by their family tree not forking, is what has brought them to this.
  • It's Going Down: The collapse of the Usher mansion, which ends the story.
  • Let the Past Burn: Ends this way as the mansion collapses, and the curse of the Usher family is brought to closure through the destruction of the house, as well as the protagonist's love interest.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: The Usher twins seem to be this for their family mansion.
  • Looks Like Cesare: Roderick is described as having deep-set eyes and a generally gaunt appearance.
  • Meaningful Name: To "usher in" something means to welcome something new (like a new era) and move it forward. The Ushers are an old family of Impoverished Patricians, with Roderick and Madeline representing the last vestiges of a dying aristocracy. When their ancestral mansion collapses, it's symbolic of the End of an Era and the beginning of a new one.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Roderick's reaction when he realizes he's buried Madeline alive.
  • No Name Given: For the narrator. Adaptations tend to name him Philipp.
  • No Ontological Inertia: The Usher mansion collapses for no obvious reason, unless the crack in the wall was a symptom of some greater structural problem.
  • Satellite Character: The narrator has no real personality other than being an innocent, sensitive Nice Guy, and serves only as a foil for Roderick.
  • Stylistic Suck: Story-within-a-story "The Mad Trist" is hopelessly trite and stilted.
  • Super Senses: Roderick suffers from hyperacute senses, which are portrayed as always a burden, never an advantage.
  • Twincest: Strongly hinted at; see Brother-Sister Incest above. Roderick and Madeline are way, way too close.
  • Uncanny Atmosphere: The Usher castle is established from the beginning as standing on a creepy, unsettling, fogbound moor. The narrator is nervous as soon as he arrives.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The footman and valet that greet the narrator are afterwards forgotten about.