'The Fall of the House of Usher' - Edgar Allan Poe
Lesson 3 |The Symbolism of The House
Fear increases fear
“There can be no doubt that the consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition – for why should I not so term it? – served mainly to accelerate the increase itself. Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical law of all sentiments having terror as a basis” (lines 45-50)
As soon as he approaches the house, the narrator senses something puzzling and eerie around the house. Using powerful language, Edgar Allan Poe manages to create a gloomy and foreboding atmosphere. The present view of this “house of gloom” and its environment makes our narrator quite nervous. The reader is made aware of the narrator’s internal struggle to understand and rationalise such apprehension. According to him, the consciousness of fear does not help - it only serves to increase its intensity. This is a recurrent theme in Poe’s writings and Gothic literature, and it differs from Freudian psychoanalysis which contends that it is by confronting our own demons and neuroses that we can conquer them.
The symbolism of the house
The house interior evokes much of the same reaction from the narrator. He must first enter the “Gothic archway of the hall” and then walk “though the many dark and intricate passages”. The use of these expressions is meant to convey the impression of walking through a labyrinth. Indeed, in Gothic fiction, the house is a central character. It is usually a place full of secret passages, numerous staircases and endless corridors. The building is very often used as a metaphor for mind and soul and the further we enter the building, the deeper we dive/descend into the human soul.
“The valet now threw open a door and ushered me into the presence of his master” (line 96).
The baroque interiors with “the carvings ceilings”, “the sombre tapestries of the walls”, “the ebon blackness of the floors” successfully capture the dark and suffocating atmosphere of the place. It seems as if the narrator is losing his grasp on reality because entering this house is akin to entering into another world. This idea is suggested in the clever use of the verb “usher” in sentence : “The valet now threw open a door and ushered me into the presence of his master” (line 96). As a verb, “usher” means to “take someone to where they should go” or “to make something new begin”. This specific term implies that the narrator is invited to take a journey into Roderick Usher’s mind and soul.
The instability of the building’s interior and foundations are reminiscent of Roderick Usher’s psychological frailty. And it should come as no surprise to find that the mansion has “vacant eye-like windows” (repeated twice in the opening paragraph), for there seems to be a mysterious connection between Roderick and the house he dwells in. Indeed, the façade of the house is – in allegorical facts – the mirror of R.Usher’s physical body, and its grim interior the reflection of his troubled mind. In the plot, the focus is thus not on the crumbling building but rather on its owner’s state of mind.