Literary Analysis of The House of Usher: A Gothic Masterpiece by Edgar Allan Poe
The House of Usher is a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, published in 1839. It is one of the most famous examples of Gothic fiction, a genre that explores the dark and mysterious aspects of human nature and society. The story revolves around the narrator's visit to his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who lives in a decaying mansion with his twin sister, Madeline. The narrator soon discovers that both Roderick and Madeline suffer from a strange illness that affects their physical and mental health, and that the house itself seems to have a life of its own. The story culminates in a horrifying climax that reveals the secrets of the Usher family and the fate of the house.
In this article, we will examine the literary elements and themes that make The House of Usher a Gothic masterpiece. We will analyze how Poe uses setting, atmosphere, symbolism, characters, plot, and style to create a sense of horror, suspense, and mystery. We will also discuss the historical and literary context of the story, and how it reflects Poe's own life and views.
Setting and Atmosphere
One of the most important aspects of Gothic fiction is the setting, which usually involves a remote and gloomy location that creates a mood of fear and dread. Poe uses vivid descriptions to portray the house of Usher as a haunted and decaying structure that mirrors the condition of its inhabitants. For example, he writes:
\"I looked upon the scene before me -- upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain -- upon the bleak walls -- upon the vacant eye-like windows -- upon a few rank sedges -- and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees -- with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium -- the bitter lapse into everyday life -- the hideous dropping off of the veil.\"[^2^]
The house is surrounded by a \"black and lurid\" lake that reflects its image, creating a sense of doubling and distortion. The narrator also notices a \"fissure\" or crack in the wall that runs from the roof to the foundation, foreshadowing the eventual collapse of the house. The interior of the house is equally dismal, with dark passages, gloomy furniture, and paintings that depict \"phantasmagoric\" scenes. The atmosphere is oppressive and suffocating, as if there is no escape from the house or its influence.
Poe uses symbolism to enhance the meaning and effect of his story. Symbolism is a literary device that involves using objects, characters, or events to represent abstract ideas or concepts. For example, in The House of Usher, Poe uses the house itself as a symbol for several things:
The house represents the Usher family, which has been isolated and degenerated for generations. The narrator learns that Roderick and Madeline are not only siblings but also twins, implying a possible incestuous relationship. The house also represents Roderick's mind, which is crumbling under the weight of his illness and guilt.
The house represents Gothic fiction as a genre, which often features haunted houses as settings for horror stories. Poe uses various elements of Gothic fiction in his story, such as supernatural events, madness, death, decay, and terror. The house also represents Poe's own style of writing, which is characterized by dark imagery, complex language, and psychological depth.
The house represents America as a nation, which was undergoing social and political changes in the nineteenth century. Poe was critical of American culture and literature, which he considered inferior to European standards. He also experienced poverty and hardship in his life, which made him cynical and pessimistic about his country's future. The house also represents Poe's own identity as an American writer who struggled to find recognition and success.
Poe also uses other symbols in his story, such as:
The lake that surrounds the house symbolizes death and oblivion. It also reflects the image of the house, creating a sense of doubling and distortion.
The fissure or crack in the wall symbolizes aa16f39245