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The narrator observes that the house seems to have absorbed an evil and diseased atmosphere from the decaying trees and murky ponds around it.
He notes Gothic story although the house is decaying in places—individual stones are disintegrating, for example—the structure itself is fairly solid.
There is only a small crack from the roof to the ground in the front of the building. He has come to the house because Gothic story friend Roderick sent him a letter earnestly requesting his company.
Roderick wrote that he was feeling physically and emotionally ill, so the narrator is rushing to his assistance. The narrator mentions that the Usher family, though an ancient clan, has never flourished.
Only one member of the Usher family has survived from generation to generation, thereby forming a direct line of descent without any outside branches.
The Usher family has become so identified with its estate that the peasantry confuses the inhabitants with their home. The narrator finds the inside of the house just as spooky as the outside. He makes his way through the long passages to the room where Roderick is waiting.
He notes that Roderick is paler and less energetic than he once was. Roderick tells the narrator that he suffers from nerves and fear and that his senses are heightened. The narrator also notes that Roderick seems afraid of his own house. The narrator spends several days trying to cheer up Roderick.
Soon, Roderick posits his theory that the house itself is unhealthy, just as the narrator supposes at the beginning of the story.
Madeline soon dies, and Roderick decides to bury her temporarily in the tombs below the house.
He wants to keep her in the house because he fears that the doctors might dig up her body for scientific examination, since her disease was so strange to them. The narrator helps Roderick put the body in the tomb, and he notes that Madeline has rosy cheeks, as some do after death.
The narrator also realizes suddenly that Roderick and Madeline were twins. Over the next few days, Roderick becomes even more uneasy. One night, the narrator cannot sleep either. Roderick knocks on his door, apparently hysterical.
He leads the narrator to the window, from which they see a bright-looking gas surrounding the house. The narrator tells Roderick that the gas is a natural phenomenon, not altogether uncommon.
The narrator decides to read to Roderick in order to pass the night away. As he reads, he hears noises that correspond to the descriptions in the story. At first, he ignores these sounds as the vagaries of his imagination. Soon, however, they become more distinct and he can no longer ignore them.
He also notices that Roderick has slumped over in his chair and is muttering to himself. The narrator approaches Roderick and listens to what he is saying. Roderick reveals that he has been hearing these sounds for days, and believes that they have buried Madeline alive and that she is trying to escape.
He yells that she is standing behind the door. Madeline stands in white robes bloodied from her struggle. She attacks Roderick as the life drains from her, and he dies of fear. The narrator flees the house. As he escapes, the entire house cracks along the break in the frame and crumbles to the ground.
For all its easily identifiable Gothic elements, however, part of the terror of this story is its vagueness. We cannot say for sure where in the world or exactly when the story takes place. Instead of standard narrative markers of place and time, Poe uses traditional Gothic elements such as inclement weather and a barren landscape.
We are alone with the narrator in this haunted space, and neither we nor the -narrator know why. While Poe provides the recognizable building blocks of the Gothic tale, he contrasts this standard form with a plot that is inexplicable, sudden, and full of unexpected disruptions.
Poe creates a sensation of claustrophobia in this story. Characters cannot move and act freely in the house because of its structure, so it assumes a monstrous character of its own—the Gothic mastermind that controls the fate of its inhabitants.A summary of “The Fall of the House of Usher” () in Edgar Allan Poe's Poe’s Short Stories.
Learn exactly what happened in this chapter, scene, or section of Poe’s Short Stories and what it means. Perfect for acing essays, tests, and quizzes, as well as for writing lesson plans.
Scott Dorsch’s story “Holes or Tunnels” appears in Midwestern Gothic‘s Summer issue, out now..
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