Romantic and Gothic Elements in House of Usher
Edgar Allan Poe stands alone with an unparalleled style of writing and aesthetic taste he adds to his literary work. His literary theories and creative techniques are totally different from the mainstream literature work written during his times. Poe adopted Gothic technique in the composition of one of his most famous stories, “The Fall of The House of Usher.” Gothic genre involves the use of supernaturalism, mysterious occurrences, and strange characters and settings. In this tale, Poe presents a terrifying atmosphere, psychological horrors, and dark plot that often characterizes Gothic literature. The nouns, verbs, and descriptions used are gloomy and suspenseful which creates a scary and foreboding mood to the readers. There is much more evidence of incorporation of Gothic fiction in the story. Thesis statement: Poe adopted a Gothic style in his short story “The Fall of The House of Usher” Poe incorporated several elements which are associated with Gothic literature in “The Fall of The House of Usher.”
According to Merriam-Webster.com, gothic stories are romantic tales of terror and the supernatural, which rely greatly on setting, and the scene to convey a sense of horror to the readers. Through this story, Poe makes a great contribution to Gothic fiction which had been pioneered some years before his time. Poe utilizes Gothic literary style to convey images, ideas, and effects. Gothic stories are usually set in extremely old structures and in very isolated places. They are scary and suspenseful with sounds that are far from normal, often have flying creatures, cobwebs, and darkness. The fiction in Gothic wants you to believe there is nothing to fear. It wakes up the terror in their soul and turns it into a pleasant experience. The readers are petrified by the mixture of horror and pleasure entering their soul. Wenfang Pang et al. supports the idea that Gothicism can be used to induce fear to the audience and convey a particular theme in the tale. These authors argue that Gothic elements such as violence, murder, insanity, and collapse are used to “establish mood and foreshadow future events”.
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In “The Fall of The House of Usher,” Poe attempts to scare readers with unexpected noises and uses gothic descriptions to introduce the setting of the story. The unnamed narrator explains the prevailing situation when arriving at the house as a “dark and soundless day near the end of the year, and clouds were hanging low…” (Poe 90). He then explains what he observes on his first sight of the building. “I looked at the scene before me – the bleak walls, vacant eye-like windows… and a few white trunks of decayed trees…” (Poe 90). The narrator reveals that he was filled with “sense of heavy sadness” (90) in his spirit on looking at the building. He is disheartened that he was going to spend many weeks in this “house of sadness” (Poe 95). The narrator discovers that the walls of the building had fallen and the stones appear to be decaying. The color of the house is almost gone and mold covers the whole outside. On the inside of the building is even worse than outside. On entering the building, the narrator realizes that everything was eerie starting from the blackness of the floors to the dark wall coverings which makes him remember “some so long forgotten wars” (Poe 102).
The darkness of the mansion is described by using words like decaying, vacant and dark. The black and gloomy that surrounds the house is an invitation to a special kind of death that may occur in the future. Despite the horrifying condition of the house, the narrator has no choice but to honor the invitation of his old friend who has suffered a mental disorder. Isolation is another Goptic element which Poe incorporated in the story. The mansion is apart from the world outside and so are the people. The house symbolizes living in “intermediary space between the real world of living and underworld, and possession of evil motives” (Pang 15). It is unusual that Roderick invites the narrator to his home at all. In fact, it only through the visit that he learns that his old childhood friend is sick. It seems they have never contacted each other since they last met. The isolation appears to have contributed a lot to the decay of his home and family name. The narrator realizes the Roderick and his sister Madeline are in an intense state of depression and both appear sickly.
The narrator tries to make Roderick and Madeline feel better, but he never succeeds. Isolation and the nature of their house appear to have contributed to their sickness. Roderick himself even suggests that the house might be the one making him sick. Roderick and Madeline have been placed in “death trap” inside the mansion and cannot easily get away from it. One display of isolation in the text is the description of the Usher family’s lineage in which the narrator states that “the entire family lay in the direct line of descent…with very trifling and very temporary variation” (Poe 159). The Usher family appears to have been isolating themselves from the rest of the people as evident in Roderick and Madeline’s choice to live alone in a secluded place. The house also carried a sense of isolation in the way the narrator describes it. with the narrow windows and hard to escape. There is also a heavy presence of melancholy throughout the room suggesting a sense of darkness and confinement. The greatest display of the way Madeline is entombed in the basement of the building after she appears to be dead. Being buried alive is an ultimate representation of fear and desolation. Whether she was buried dead or alive, the underlying matter was that Madeline never received a decent burial. The matter seems to have been crippled by the fact the Usher has only a few friends. The fear of burring Madeline alive causes Roderick to descend further into a deep state of depression and eventually to his death. Long Diane
Hoeveler in her article titled “The Hidden God and The Abjected Woman in ‘The Fall of The House of Usher,’” confirms the idea that the isolation in “The Fall of The House of Usher” is an element of Gothicism that characterizes the majority of Poe’s works. She terms Roderick and Madeline as a “male/female couple who….no longer believes in themselves because they understand the fictional nature of both history and religion” (388). She claims that the sense of isolation caused Roderick and Madeline to descend depression, and on, and they now have “energy to self-destruct” (388). She supports the notion that isolation is a literary technique which was used to induce the theme of fear in the tale. Until this stage of the story, the reader is made to prepare for unusual things that will happen in the later parts of the text. The use of a melancholic tone further demonstrates the gothic genre and the Gothic literature for narrators or other characters to go undergo psychological deterioration. In the “Fall of the House of Usher,” it is not the narrator, but his old childhood friend Usher who descends into insanity. Peter Obuchowski on his article titled “United of Effect in Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” supports that the story creates “atmosphere without activity” and draws the reader deep into the story of “the melancholy house of Usher.” He claims that phrases like “I had been passing alone”, “I found myself” and “found myself within view of…” shows the narrator is in a state of depression. The Usher’s family appears to have been rocked with madness and insanity.
The Roderick’s song, “The Haunted Palace,” (Poe 285) impresses the narrator as the allegorical representation of the Usher’s madness. The narrator is overwhelmed with the terror, gloom, and illness happening in Usher’s family. On his arrival, Roderick was already nervous and superstitious, but his sister’s deteriorating condition seemed to put him over the edge. Roderick demonstrates the highest sense of insanity when he buries her sister alive. In the article “Explanation in the ‘The Fall of The House of Usher,’” Beverly Voloshin supports that argument that Roderick manifests a severe sense of madness. She claims that the Roderick become “distracted and more vacant” (422) after the death of his sister Madeline. The narrator accounts for the sudden change in Roderick to an “oppressive secret” or he is “caught in the vagaries of madness’ (422). Goptic writers normally use madness as a stylistic genre that portrays cruel realism or something occurring under supernatural intervention. Gothic literature often involves themes such as the loss of self-control, inevitability, and fate as the ultimate determining factor in the characters. In such themes, insanity and madness are the topics that fit quite well. Another thing which necessitates the use of insanity and madness in most of the literature written in the Gothic era is that the period was characterized by fear and “the unknown.” There was no scientific theories and modes of reasons which consequently found their way into the narratives of Gothic works. Supernatural elements which are synonymous with Gothic literature are also widely used in the Poe’s short story. Supernaturalism in the tale can be evidenced in the physical appearance and the location of Usher family’s house which the narrator explains that it is synonymous with Roderick himself. A supernatural atmosphere is created by describing the decaying house causing feelings of horror. The premature burial of Madeline surprises the readers. She appears to actually be dead at first but she seems later to be like a ghost when she rose from dead. It turns out that Madeline was not dead and she was merely trying to get out of the tomb. Beverly Voloshin terms the whole story as “unusual and unnatural” (421). She argues that the events in the tale including the mysterious decay of the Usher’s house and undead corpse strongly suggest a possibility of supernatural influence (421). She claims that Madeline and Roderick resemble the “victims of vampires” (421). She likens their sickness to vampirism, a condition which is not curable. Roderick’s malady is “a constitutional and a family evil” and her sister’s disease “had long baffled the skill of her physicians” (Poe 280-282). Poe incorporated supernatural elements into this tale to achieve a dark and scary mood which are necessary for the audience to understand the intended meaning of the story.