Edgar Allen Poe\'s Symbolism of Death in "The Fall of the House of Usher"


Death is defined as, "The termination or extinction of something"
(American Heritage Dictionary). Edgar Allen Poe uses this description in "The
Fall of the House of Usher" in different ways. Poe\'s intention when writing
"The Fall of the House of Usher" was not to present a moral, lesson, or truth to
the reader; he was simply trying to bring forth a sense of terror to the reader.
Poe\'s mind works this way, and critics believe this statement, especially when
related to this story.
Edgar Allen Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. His life was
filled with tragedies that started when he was ten months old and until he died
at age forty. These tragedies might be the answer to why Poe wrote in a way
that confuses most of his readers. "Abandoned, misunderstood, and broke
throughout his life, few would have predicted that Poe would one day achieve the
fame and respect now offered him in literacy circles in America and Europe—
particularly France" ("The Fall of the House of Usher" - Analysis, 5).
Poe is grouped with other writers in the Romantic period. Writers of
this period focused on life, emotions, and the existence of the human race.
Although Poe\'s work has many characteristics of Romanticism, "The Fall of the
House of Usher", falls into the Gothic category. "It is usually admired for its
‘atmosphere\' and for its exquisitely artificial manipulation of Gothic claptrap
and decor"(Abel, 380).
Bringing forth the symbolism of death is a major part of this writing.
All of the characters in "The Fall of the House of Usher" are linked to death;
by physical objects or by other people. "There are no symbols of absolute good"
(Abel, 382).
The physical aspect of the House of Usher symbolizes death, in the
chain of events, during the story. Even Poe\'s description of the house has
deadly characteristics. Poe describes the house as having "eye-like windows"
and being covered by "minute fungi…hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the
eaves (fungi eats off the dead remains of other organisms); a barely perceptible
fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way
down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters
of the tarn"(Poe, 6-13) . This "fissure" is presented to the reader, early in
the story, to represent that Roderick\'s love for his twin sister, Madeline, was
dying, because she was suffering from a mysterious malady, or disease, that
baffled her doctors. This caused Roderick to be emotionally and physically
depressed, and was described as a madman at this point. "He was convinced that
his whole surroundings, the stones of the house, the fungi, the water in the
tarn , the very reflected image of the whole, was woven into a physical oneness
with the family, condensed, as it were, into one atmosphere—the special
atmosphere in which alone the Ushers could live. And it was this atmosphere
which had molded the destinies of his family" (Lawrence, 378).
Roderick invites a friend (the narrator) to the "House of Usher" to
visit and support him during this crisis. The narrator is involved in all of
Roderick\'s emotions and problems during the course of the story. He sees
Roderick\'s compassion for his sister during her illness. After Madeline dies he
assists Roderick in the placement of her body in a steal coffin in a vault under
the house. The reason for such protection of Madeline\'s body was the fear of
her doctors. They were so fascinated by the strangeness of her disease that
Roderick feared that they would steal her body for pathologic reasons.
Poe uses this whole scenario to show that Roderick really cared for his
sister. It was as though they were one being, relying on each other for life; "—
a brother, his twin sister, and their incredibly ancient house all sharing a
single soul and meeting one common dissolution at the same moment"(Lovecraft,
380). Once Madeline died, Roderick had lost part of himself. Madeline was his
connection in the human "realm". He knew that his love would eventually kill
her, and it did. They loved without any resistance and eventually dragged each
other to death. "For the Holy Ghost says you must not be as one thing with
another being. Each must abide by itself, and correspond only within certain
limits" (Lawrence, 378).
In the end, Roderick\'s guest (the narrator) finally expresses that
Roderick is truly a madman. The purpose for this is