In The Fall of the House of Usher, Edgar Allen Poe writes of a sickly brother and sister that live in an old estate, and a narrator’s account of the Ushers’ final days. The story is scary on two different levels. The first and most obvious that is noticed just by reading on the surface is the creepy atmosphere of the house and death of the main characters. Poe makes this level of scariness very accessible by the diction and imagery that he uses. The second level of scariness is the psychological aspect of the story. The themes of isolation, madness, and fear become terrifying because they are able to transcend the story; they are real, and they could quite possibly affect us.
The first, most basic, and most easily recognizable level of “scary” is seen throughout the story, but especially in the opening paragraphs. With his choice of imagery and diction, Poe practically tells the audience that they are in a horror story and should feel scared. The first sentence alone is filled with diction that would make even the most basic reader shudder. Poe writes,
During the whole of a dull, dark, soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I have been passing alone, on horseback, through a singular dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within the view of the melancholy House of Usher. (654)
Poe is known for his melodramatic writing style, but the constant repetition of daunting words is enough to make any reader practically say out loud, “Come on, Poe. Try to be a little subtle, please.”
The abundance of chilling diction and imagery continues through the rest of the story, often in Poe’s description of the house. Any given sentence of the story is dripping with creepy words and images. One example of this is, “the decayed trees, and the gray walls, and the silent tarn, in the form of an inelastic vapor or gas – dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued” (655). The scene that Poe creates is uncomfortable because of the darkness described and the images of death. The darkness that Poe describes is scary not because of the darkness itself, but because it hides things. Humans, by nature, are frightened by things they cannot know, and there is something quite unsettling about the only “faintly discernible” tarn. Additionally, Poe’s use of the words “decayed”, “dull”, and “sluggish” suggest a lack of life on the property. It seems that death is always a daunting subject, perhaps once again for fear of the unknown.
Another element of the story that makes it scary is the personification of the house. Poe says that the house has “vacant eye-like windows” twice while describing it. The fact that the house has windows that look like eyes is unnatural in itself, but that they are vacant dehumanizes the personified house. Because eyes are often seen as “the window to the soul”, the vacant windows would infer that the house does not have a soul, in turn...