Friday, March 13, 2009
Today, Friday the 13th, we get to discuss one of my favorite of Poe's stories, The Fall of the House of Usher.
An unnamed narrator travels to the home of his friend, Roderick Usher. As he gazes upon Usher's home, he is filled with a sense of dread he can not fully explain. When he sees his friend for the first time in many years, he cannot help but notice how sick he looks - "Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher." Usher explains that he has been gripped by the family illness, an unusual sensitivity to sensations, and an acuteness of the senses. In addition, he suffers from an irrational terror - "I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR." He also believes that the deterioration of his physical body is somehow connected with the deterioration of his home, The House of Usher.
Roderick reveals that much of the underlying cause for his many ailments can be linked to the near-deadly sickness of his sister, Madeline. When she dies, he will be the last of the House of Usher. Her condition has baffled doctors, and her demise is imminent. As the narrator spends more time with Roderick, he sees the true depth of the madness of his friend. And then, one night, Roderick abruptly announces Madeline's death, and his intention to preserve her body in a vault within the house.
Now, because it is Poe, you should know that all is not as it seems - but I don't want to give away the ending if you haven't read this wonderfully creepy story! You can find the full text here.
One of my favorite literary devices is the doppleganger, or "dark double" - the two people in the story who mirror each other, usually one good and one bad. Poe gives us marvelous examples of this in his story, both with Roderick and Madeline, and Roderick and the house itself. Once again, we have the unexplained noises, which someone is pretending not to hear. Once again, we have the guilt - the overwhelming guilt - that eventually causes the guilty party to confess. Once again the madness is pitch perfect. The Fall of the House of Usher is a true masterpiece.
Next week we will be reading a poem, Lenore. Poe Fridays is hosted by Kristen at WeBeReading.