Poe often drew upon his memory of growing up in England for his settings, as in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” which concerns the fate of a decayed aristocratic family and its moldering Gothic mansion. Having seen the movie and read the story several times it is by far my favorite of Poe’s work. This story is a masterpiece of mood. This story is filled with symbolism; a web of cause and effect. The Usher family and mansion are analogous-stained with time, used up, crumbling from within, awaiting collapse. Roderick and his sister Madeline, identical twins, are almost sharing the same soul, and they can be interpreted together as the soul of which their mansion is the body. All three decline together, and the inference is that the disappearance of one means the disappearance of the others, which in fact comes to pass.
After Madeline had been buried alive for days, her return to Roderick’s study is orchestrated by a clever device, the reading aloud of a legendary tale, the plot of which describes precisely the sounds she makes as she draws near. The door swings open, Madeline collapses against her brother, and they fall dead to the floor together. The narrator escapes just in time to look back and see the house disintegrate. As mentioned Poe’s theory of the short story demands unity of effect, and here he achieves it as nowhere else. He sustains the atmosphere to the end after his celebrated opening. Poe specializes in great openings and endings. As always variety is one of his strong points. The concluding line matches the opening in visual imagery. The narrator, looking back, sees the moon shining through a crack in the mansion’s wall:
“While I gazed, the fissure rapidly widened-there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind-the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sightly brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing as under there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the
“House of Usher.”