Poe’s The Fall of the House of was first published in Burlington’s Gentleman’s Magazine, and American Monthly Review 5 (September 1839). It falls under Gothic literature and is formatted as a story one would read in a book. There is, however, a poem in the middle of the story called The Haunted Palace which was published earlier in the Baltimore Museum. The poem is formatted differently from the rest of the story. It is composed of six stanzas each labeled with a Roman numeral. Except for the first four lines of the poem, it seems to follow the rhyming scheme of ABAB CDCD and so on. The poem talks about a king whose kingdom was overtaken by an evil spirit and was essentially destroyed. It is supposed to foreshadow the destruction of the House of Usher.
The story follows the narrator who gets a letter from his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who is gravely ill. The narrator explains that Roderick and his sister, Madeline, are the last Ushers alive. When he enters the house he finds Roderick pale and weak. Roderick explains that Madeline was also gravely ill and that he suspects that she would die soon. The narrator stays at the house for a couple of days to try to cheer Roderick up. He does this by playing him some songs and reading him stories, but nothing seems to work. Just as Roderick suspected, Madeline “died” soon afterwards. Roderick decides to bury Madeline in the house because he was afraid that the doctors would want to use her body for scientific research. It was only after they buried her did the narrator realize that Roderick and Madeline were twins. Several nights later, Roderick and the narrator could not sleep. So the narrator decides to pass the time by reading “Mad Trist” by Sir Launcelot Canning. However, little by little Roderick becomes more paranoid. The narrator realizes that noises were coming from downstairs as he was reading the story out loud. But the creepy thing is, the noises coincide exactly with what is being read in the story. This leads Roderick to conclude that they have buried Madeline alive and now she is trying to escape. He then says that she is standing right outside the door. To confirm what Roderick said, Madeline burst through the door and attacks Roderick, killing them both. The narrator then rushes out of the house and turns around in time to see the house collapse.
A major theme in this story is the concept of fear. The narrator experiences fear throughout the whole story, Roderick predicts that he will die of fear, Madeline was the fear that killed Roderick, and of course there is the reader’s fear when reading the story. The concept of fear throughout the story seems to lead the reader to believe that the argument of the text is that the more one is afraid of something, the more likely one will cause it to happen. Roderick was afraid of death and by the end of the story, he was killed because of that fear. Some even say that Roderick was afraid that his sister would kill him and so he had to kill her first. However, she was still alive and came back to kill him.
The Fall of the House of Usher and The Raven are both the most famous and analyzed works of Poe. One thing that they both have in common is a man who is tormented from loss. Roderick lost his whole family and will soon lose his life, and the narrator in The Raven mourns over the loss of his love, Lenore. They both also deal with the common Gothic theme of ruin. Roderick experiences ruin both physically (as his house gets destroyed) and mentally (as he goes insane). The narrator of The Raven experiences ruin mentally as the raven torments him with the memory of his lost love.
Question for thought: How does The Fall of the House of Usher reveal the fears of society back then and today?