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Literature Review: The Fall of the House of Usher

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    Edgar Allan Poe has remained one of the most influential and successful American poets of all time. This sample literature paper examines one of his most famous pieces of literature, The Fall of the House of Usher, highlighting just exactly what made it such a great read.

    Rise of the House Usher

    Poe’s work, The Fall of the House of Usher, has been read and enjoyed by both casual and professional readers since the time of its original publication.  So many different types of people enjoy this work because it combines several different elements together to create suspense. While the casual reader will enjoy the style of narration and uneasy feeling created by Poe’s writing, a more serious reader will enjoy the use of symbolism and the care that Poe took in using Gothic elements.  By combining the elements that attract both the serious and casual readers, Poe has written a short story that is still a favorite among both college students and professors today.  The combination of the literary elements of symbolism and foreshadowing combined with the unique narration style solidify The Fall of the House of Usher as one of Poe’s most enjoyable written stories.

    As with many of Poe’s writings, symbolism plays an important role within The Fall of the House of Usher.  Right from the opening of the tale, the reader is immediately confronted with a large, imposing house that belongs to the narrator’s childhood friend Roderick.  The house is described as dull, dreary, and unkempt, however the structure of the house itself is fairly sound.  The house can be seen as a physical representation of the family line of the Ushers. As a once proud, powerful family, the estate carries an imposing feel to it.  However, since the family line has been reduced to direct descendants, Madeline and Roderick, the estate has fallen into a shadow of what it once was. As the story progresses, readers constantly are introduced to more and more symbolic occurrences that Poe cleverly uses to create the tense atmosphere of the story.  

    One of the greatest uses of symbolism occurs at the end of the story when the narrator, after witnessing Madeline killing her brother after escaping from her tomb, flees the house only to see it collapse under its own weight. This can be symbolically interpreted as not only an end to the family estate but also as a physical manifestation of the end of the family line.  The way the house collapses, straight down into the tarn, can be viewed as the linear fashion of the Usher family tree. Therefore, the collapse of the house in a straight down, linear fashion symbolizes the way in which the final members of the Usher family, Roderick and Madeline, are part of the end of the line (Lorcher, 2011).     

    Poe also makes outstanding use of foreshadowing in the creation of this tale. Right from the onset of the tale, the narrator explains his fear and mistrust of the Usher estate. He feels that the house itself has become evil and has a deep sense of dread about it, and he fears to initially enter the estate. This foreshadows the events that will follow in the story for the narrator in that the house’s nature is subjected to question and truly frightening events will unfold in the near future there. This foreshadowing gives way to one of the potential themes that Poe may have been attempting to convey in the story; one must be able to confront their own fears and venture into the unknown.  The narrator also makes note to the changing atmosphere within the house as the story progresses. One of the other most prevalent examples of foreshadowing in this story is the crack that the narrator notices upon his initial arrival of the house.  

    Though he notes that the house appears to be structurally solid, Poe takes the time to describe one flaw in the structure in the form a small crack that goes from the roof down to the base of the house. This small crack appears to be of no serious consequence like the narrators initial fears of the house, but as the story climaxes and the narrator’s fears are realized, the house literally splits and collapses. This small crack, though appearing to be of no real consequence, lead to the ultimate destruction of the entire house (Davidson, 2009).

    One of the most enticing aspects of this story is the point of view that Poe uses. The reader is put into a first person point of view of the narrator and subjected to his thoughts and observations of the unfolding events.  The reader is given no outside information about anything prior to the story; they do not know who the narrator is, the nature of his relationship to Roderick from their childhood, or even what truly makes this feeling of uneasiness surrounding the Usher estate.  By giving such limited information from the narrator’s point of view, Poe creates a mysterious, tense nature that makes the story very easy to follow and leaves the readers in a constant state of confusion and unease.  When presenting the story in this way, Poe easily creates a sense of thrill as well as fear in the reader by simply not explaining details.  This allows the readers’ own imaginations to create their own versions of what is occurring within the story.  Poe employs this technique to perfection, which allows each reader to both create and experience his or her own fears and relate them to the story.

    The Fall of the House of Usher is one of Edgar Allen Poe’s most well written and received pieces of literature.  The story can be appreciated by not only the analytical reader, but the casual one as well.  The combination of such literary elements as symbolism and foreshadowing allow a reader to look very critically and analytically at the story while the simplistic style of narration combined with the great story telling ability of Poe makes this read still enjoyable to someone looking for a thrilling, suspenseful short story.  Regardless of why a person chooses to read The Fall of the House of Usher, the techniques that Poe employs will continue to make this short story one of his most popular to both causal and professional readers no matter how much time passes.  

    Works Cited

    Davidson, Arden. "Helium." Helium. (2009): n. page. Print. <http://www.helium.com/items/1591815-fall-of-the-house-of-usher>.

    Lorcher, Trent. "Brighthub Education." Brighthub Education. (2011): n. page. Print. <http://www.brighthubeducation.com/homework-help-literature/66201-fall-of-the-house-of-usher-analysis/>. 

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