'The Fall of the House of Usher' - Edgar Allan Poe Lesson 6 | Understanding of the Ending and Interpretations
Was Madeline Usher buried alive?
Lady Madeline’s mysterious illness is characterised as “a settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the person” as well as affections of “a cataleptical character”. In other words, Lady Madeline is said to suffer from a condition that is similar to catalepsy (‘cataleptical character’). Catalepsy is a nervous disorder akin to epilepsy, schizophrenia and hysteria. It also involves a loss of sensation and consciousness associated with rigidity of the body. In other words, catalepsy is a condition that makes the sufferers look corpse-like. This could be interpreted as a hint that Lady Madeline was not dead but was in fact buried alive. And as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that she was indeed buried alive, and that she tried to claw her way out of her tomb. Moreover, Roderick hears some noise at night but is not sure whether it is real or only a figment of his imagination. In the second to last paragraph, when Madeline appears before Roderick and the narrator, she is described as “an enshrouded figure” with “blood upon her white robe, and the evidence of some bitter struggle (…)”. It is thus evident that she had been buried alive, although whether it was done on purpose or not is left to the reader’s own interpretation.
The Collapse of the House of Usher
At the very end of the story, the two siblings die in each other’s arms. As Madeline falls forward onto her brother, she brings him – and the Usher family bloodline – to the ground. The narrator runs away in terror and, once outside, turns back to see the house split in two, and collapse into the “lurid tarn” as to mark the end of the Usher family name. Whether or not there was an incestuous relationship between Roderick and Madeline, the Usher family tree is based on incest. Consequently, it could be inferred that Roderick's and Madeline's strange diseases may stem from their inbred genes. The family’s incestuous tradition has – for many years – been the main reason for the slow decline of the family lineage. The Fall of the House of Usher is thus, in essence, an extended metaphor; one that uses the house to symbolize both the decay and ultimate collapse of a bloodline tainted by incest.
The narrator has fallen into madness Other critics have focused on the narrator and have suggested that is falling into madness while staying at the Usher Mansion. In those terms, the story can be understood as an account of the narrator’s descent into insanity.
Madeline is the physical manifestation of Roderick’s fear Others have suggested that Lady Madeline does not really exist but is the embodiment and personification of Roderick’s fears and internal turmoil. This would explain the reason why – when he sees her – he becomes extremely pale and bursts into tears.
Madeline is a vampire (and possibly Roderick as well). Another reading of the story involves the possibility that Roderick Usher and Madeline are vampires. There are many elements throughout the text that can be used to support this interpretation : -Roderick’s weakness and cadaverous appearance -his hyper-sensitivity to light -his need to live in a world of semi-darkness (hence the dark interior of the house), -Madeline’s ghostly presence. This could also account for Roderick’s “ghastly pallor” and the fact that the narrator finds it difficult to connect Roderick with humanity. “(…) I could not, even with effort, connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity”. In this interpretation, Roderick Usher buries his sister in order to protect himself. Therefore, the final embrace must be understood in terms of the Lady Madeline, a vampire, falling upon her brother's throat and sucking the last drop of blood from him. The final paragraph supports this view in that the actions occur during the "full blood-red moon" - a time during which vampires are said to prey upon fresh victims.
Without an omniscient narrator, the reader is left with uncertainty as to what the truth is in the story. Was lady Madeline already dead right from the start ? Has she ever existed ? Is the narrator reliable or is he teetering on the brink of insanity? In the Fall of the House of Usher Edgar Allan Poe skilfully blurs the line between the supernatural and psychological. Poe’s use of language is undoubtedly efficient in leaving much to the reader’s own interpretation and understanding.