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“The Fall of the House of Usher” Edgar Allan Poe
Poe’s Diction • You may not understand every single word, so use context clues. We know Poe is continually addressing gothic and romantic tendencies. “Unknown words” are probably not going to reference rainbows and ponies. • Realize that all of the words are going to have dark, dreary, negative connotations. You do not necessarily have to know the meaning of every word to understand the story.
• Poe uses every word to instill horror, accompanied by oppressing morbidity and anxious anticipation. Every word has a negative connotation somehow. Look at the opening words: – During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.
• Besides painting a gloomy picture, the words in the paragraph also beat out a rhythm–at first through the alliteration of during, dull, dark, and day, and then through the rhyming suffixes of oppressively, singularly, and melancholy.
Setting The story begins at dusk on an autumn day in an earlier time, probably the 19 th Century. The place is a forbidding mansion in a forlorn countryside. The mansion, covered by a fungus, is encircled by a small lake, called a tarn, that resembles a moat. A bridge across the tarn provides access to the mansion.
• In “The Fall of the House of Usher” how do atmosphere and environment influence the narrator’s behavior? • In “The Fall of the House of Usher” how do atmosphere and environment influence Roderick Usher’s behavior? • How would you behave in the House of Usher? Would you react similarly to either the narrator or Usher?
Main Characters • Narrator, a friend of the master of the House of Usher. When he visits his friend, he witnesses terrifying events. Roderick Usher, the master of the house. He suffers from a depressing condition characterized by strange behavior. Madeline Usher, twin sister of Roderick. She also suffers from a strange illness. After apparently dying, she rises from her coffin.
Let’s Make Sure We Understand What is Going On…PLOT • Think about why the boyhood friend is the narrator. This is Roderick Usher’s story, but it’s not told from his point of view. Consider why Poe delivers information to the reader from the perceptions of an outsider. • Analyze the information given about Roderick and Madeline Usher’s illnesses. Pay close attention to how these diseases affect them mentally and emotionally, as well as physically.
• Decide whether Roderick intentionally buries Madeline alive or not and why he would do so. Ask if Poe is suggesting that Roderick Usher is trying to destroy a part of himself by destroying his sister. • Read the ballad “The Haunted Palace” carefully and see how it relates to the story as a whole. Think about why Roderick Usher is the one to perform it.
• Consider why the house is physically destroyed. Poe is using this as a symbol to make a statement about the Usher family itself. • Think about the role the story’s title has on both a literal and symbolic level.
Characterization—The Usher Family • What is an “usher”? • What is the Usher family associated with? • What does it mean that “…the entire family lay in the direct line of descent…”? • What is wrong with Usher? His twin, Madeline? • What does Usher look like?
Theme • The central theme of "The Fall of the House of Usher" is terror that arises from the complexity and multiplicity of forces that shape human destiny. Dreadful, horrifying events result not from a single, uncomplicated circumstance but from a collision and intermingling of manifold, complex circumstances.
Other Themes • Isolation—Roderick and Madeline Usher seal themselves inside their mansion, cutting themselves off from friends, ideas, progress. They have become musty and mildewed, sick unto their souls for lack of contact with the outside world. • Madness—Roger and Madeline suffer from mental illness characterized by anxiety, depression, and other symptoms. • Mystery—From the very beginning, the narrator realizes that he is entering a world of mystery when he crosses the tarn bridge.
Symbolism • Autumn • The Fungus-Ridden Mansion • The Collapsing Mansion • The “Vacant eye-like” Windows of the Mansion • The Tarn, a Small Lake Encircling the Mansion and Reflecting Its Image • The Bridge Over the Tarn • The name Usher • The Storm • The poem, "The Haunted Palace” • Others? ?
Poe’s Intent – Melancholy—a gloomy state of mind, esp. when habitual or prolonged; depression • Did Poe’s poem have a melancholy effect on you? – Poe once wrote that all worldly things contain "the germ of their inevitable annihilation. " • Long before Freud suggested that humans might be driven by more than self-preservative instincts, Poe discovered the implacable, unreasonable drive towards self-destruction. He discovered it in himself, and he dramatized it in each of his characters.
Romantic Elements – Emotion over reason – Belief in the supernatural – Supremacy of nature over man – Individualism – Nationalism: Customs and Folklore – High regard for imagination • What makes this story gothic? What gothic characteristics does the story have?
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