The Fall Of The House Of Usher, By Edgar Allan Poe

877 words - 4 pages

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard begins his book, The Sickness Unto Death like this: “Man is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation which relates itself to its own self.” I understand The Fall of the House of Usher in these terms; the story is a description of the sick self, the sick spirit, the mortally morbid human.

The title provides a reasonable summary of the story: the subject is the House of Usher and what happens to the House is a fall. That would be simple enough, but matters are complicated by the fact that the phrase “House of Usher” has more than one meaning; the phrase can mean, “both the family and the family mansion.” However, when reading the story, it becomes quite clear that these two meanings do not represent two different realities, but that, rather, they are two different representations of the same reality. The literal, physical House of Usher is a dilapidated mansion, standing in isolation in a bleak and hostile environment. The figurative House of Usher is the Usher family, which also exists in a state of isolation―the Usher genealogy is marked by consanguineous marriages. It is quite possible that this inbreeding was the cause of Roderick Usher’s illness - he complains of “a constitutional and family evil.” (Madeline’s sickness may also be linked to this inbreeding.) In the same way, isolation in a moist environment has caused the Usher family mansion to fall into disrepair. These parallels indicate that the two meanings of the phrase, “House of Usher” refer to the same thing.

However, what exactly does the House symbolize? I take it to symbolize the totality of the constituents of the humanity of an aesthetically, morally, and spiritually ill person who may well be the author himself: Edgar Allan Poe. The constituents of the physical House, the stones, are described as having a “crumbling condition” though “no portion of the masonry had fallen.” In this way, the superstructure of the ill person’s humanity is still standing, but the brokenness of the superstructure’s individual components will result in an eventual fall. The main emphasis of the story is given to describing Roderick Usher, and the narrator especially emphasizes Roderick’s feelings. For example, Roderick’s problem is “a morbid acuteness of the senses,” i.e. he feels too strongly. This leads me to assume that Roderick is the raw, immediate emanation of the ill person’s humanity. One could label Roderick as the subjective component of the ill person’s humanity. The narrator is probably the objective, self-relating component of the ill person’s humanity. The narrator does not...

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