Symbolism is "the practice of representing things by symbols, or of investing things with a symbolic meaning or character" according to dictionary.com. This literary device is employed frequently by authors, and Edgar Allan Poe is no exception. Considered the father of American Gothic literature, Poe is best known for his poem "The Raven." "The Fall of the House of Usher" is perhaps his best-known short story; it set the standard by which Gothic literature, setting and even the term itself are measured.
Symbolism in "The Fall of the House of Usher" begins with the title. At the end of the story, the house itself does indeed fall; in the beginning, however, Roderick Usher tells the narrator that once his chronically ill twin sister Madeleine dies, it "would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last of the ancient race of the Ushers."
There is much symbolism associated with the house itself; the narrator describes the house at length in the beginning of the story. From the outside in, everything about it seems to be in a state of decline, disrepair or neglect, paralleling the steadily declining health of the occupants. Perhaps the most telling image is the upside-down reflection of the house on the lake, indicating that everything about the place is all wrong.
The Painting and Poem
In the middle of the story, Roderick paints a picture of the inside view of a vault. Later, he and the narrator place the supposedly dead Madeleine in an almost identical real vault. In the same passage, there is a poem or ballad called "The Haunted Palace." It describes a once-beautiful palace in a once-green setting in which "evil things, in robes of sorrow / Assailed the monarch's high estate." The Usher mansion immediately comes to mind, while the "robes of sorrow" are reminiscent of Madeleine's burial robes.
The Weather and Moon
In the final scene a storm comes up, building along with the narrative; storms in literature have long been used to underscore climactic action. Finally, as the house crumbles into the lake, there is a full, blood-red moon overhead, symbolic of bloodshed and death.
- "The Fall of the House of Usher," Edgar Allan Poe, 1840
- Dictionary.com: Symbolism
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