Literary Critique - The Fall of the House of Usher

Edgar Allan Poe
Photo Credit: Oscar Halling
(Wikimedia Commons)

Edgar Allan Poe: The Psychological Crypt

Poe creates tension in his writing by placing something or someone in the background, lurking somewhere, waiting. This technique is evident in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” a story published in 1839.

Roderick Usher cares for his sister until her presumed death. Catalepsy makes her appear dead long before she really is. Her condition causes madness in her brother, and Roderick deteriorates as this frightening tale advances. Beneath the surface, a feeling of impending doom surrounds the protagonist, advancing the plot and building suspense. A horrible event is about to occur.

Although Madeline isn’t much of a character in her near comatose state, her presence establishes a stronger personality in her brother. The emotionally distraught and unstable Roderick makes up for what is missing in Madeline.

As the narrator and Roderick look into her coffin one last time, Poe writes, “A striking similitude between the brother and sister now first arrested my attention; and Usher, divining, perhaps, my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which I learned that the deceased and himself had been twins, and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them.”

Interpretation of this statement is subjective. Poe has created a sense of mystery. He casts a gloomy mood over the setting, far from peaceful.

After Madeline’s entombment on the estate, Roderick sees and hears what the narrator cannot perceive, at least not at first. The climax is her emergence from the crypt, bloody and exhausted, after her fight to escape. The fear of being buried alive is a horror that authors have capitalized on for centuries. Poe uses this psychological device with expert skill.