American author Edgar Allan Poe defined the genre of macabre story-telling in the first half of the 19th century. Poe, known for psychologically thrilling tales with morbid undertones, wrote "The Fall of the House of Usher" in 1839. Today it is regarded as an early and supreme example of Gothic horror, and still stands out among the author's many well-known works.
The story begins with the narrator riding on horseback to the ancestral home of his childhood friend, Roderick Usher. After arriving and making his way through several long passages in the home, the narrator finds Roderick, paler and less energetic than he once was. Usher's sister Madeline, who also lives there, has become very ill with a strange disease that doctors cannot seem to reverse. The narrator spends several days attempting to lift Roderick's spirits, reading him stories and listening to the man play songs on his guitar.
Soon, the narrator discovers how appropriate the foreboding feeling he noticed when he arrived at the house of Usher was. Madeline dies, and Roderick decides to bury her temporarily in a tomb below the house. A few nights later, Roderick comes to the narrator's room, hysterical and in fear he might have buried his sister alive. Suddenly, wind blows open the door to the room, revealing a bloody Madeline who attacks Roderick as the last bit of life drains from her. Roderick dies of fear, the narrator flees in terror, and the house crumbles to the ground just after he escapes it.
Throughout the story, Poe maintains a dark, morbid and foreboding mood. As the narrator arrives at the house, he notes how the clouds hang "oppressively low," and the landscape filled him with an "insufferable gloom." The House of Usher evokes an "utter depression" in the narrator's soul, and the reader is led to believe it is a living thing when Roderick describes how the house itself exerted a perverse influence over his spirit. Roderick's sullen depression and Madeline's illness and death further increase the dreariness of the forlorn tale.
The melancholy House of Usher gets personified very early in the story with the description of the windows as "eye-like." The "atmosphere of sorrow" and "irredeemable gloom" within suggest the house itself may be responsible for the illness and tragedy that unfolds. The deep, dark descriptions of the house and its morbid inhabitants leave the reader to ponder the tale's meaning. Some believe the house causes Madeline's illness and pseudo-death. Others purport Madeline does not actually exist and is a figment of the narrator and Roderick's imagination caused by dwelling in the supernatural abode.
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