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Edgar Allen Poe
“The Fall of the House of Usher”
An Author Unlike Any Other
During the nineteenth century, literary writers were encouraged in transcendentalism. Their main focus was on capturing the spirituality in nature. For example, authors such as Henry Thoreau and Ralph Emerson were dominating the world of poetry and prose with their tales of nature. From Thoreau’s’ journey through the Maine Woods to Emerson’s Nature, the transcendental ere, was in the main stream. Yet, not all of the nineteenth century writers shared this same viewpoint. As a matter of fact, one writer emerging, who proved to be just as prominent, had a viewpoint in direct opposition of his contemporaries. The great Edgar Allen Poe, though born during the same period and encountered the same influences, would emerge as a different writer. “Those others”, Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Whittier and Holmes, “turned toward Wordsworth while Poe, took Coleridge as his loadstar in his search for a consistent theory of art” (Perkins 1236).
Poe’s creativity was, perhaps, due to the lifestyle in which he lived. It was obviously different, much more harsh and filled with heartache and death. His influence on the arts was different from that of his contemporaries as well. “He influenced the course of creative wiring and criticism by emphasizing the are that appeals simultaneously to reason and to emotion and by insisting that the work of art is not a fragment of the author’s life, nor an adjunct to didactic purpose, but an object created in the cause of beauty—which he defined in its largest spiritual implication” (1236).
His life was a very tragic which was displayed through many of his works. Some of his poetry for example, could be construed as horrid accounts of death. “The Raven”, evidently was a gruesome depiction of the torment he faced after the death of his young wife, Virginia. Of course, we know that “Annabel Lee” was also about her death, but “The Raven” was a darker tale of Poe blaming himself for her untimely passing. Other works that cast a shadow of gloom and suggest his fascination with death, include, “The Cask of Amontillado” and “Lenore”. One short story in particular, which leaves a lot for the imagination to ponder is, “The Fall of the House of Usher”. Is it a story filled with symbolism or should it all be taken literally? Is it a satire? Did Poe have a friend which he modeled the character, Roderick Usher, after or was that Poe himself? Those were the questions that arose upon reading this story.
He sets an eerie imagery of this house in the beginning, almost personifying its features. It was as if he was suggesting that the house held a certain master, as with the constant mention of its “vacant and eye-like windows”. “It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural object which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth” (1270). He uses constant metaphoric references to the house and emphasizes the significance of his human-like presence. It is a possibility that the House has become a parallel symbol of Usher of Poe Himself. Once upon a time this House was a safe haven for the Usher family, but after being consumed by all the evils (dark family secrets), it has become a tormenting reminder of sins. The decaying of this House was a symbolic parallelism to the decaying of Roderick Usher and Lady Madeline’s health.
The character, Roderick Usher, bared a striking resemblance to Poe. It would not be too inconceivable to assume that he saw himself this way. For instance, Lady Madeline shared some of the same characteristics as his beloved wife Virginia. At the time that he wrote “House of Usher”, she was dying. Physicians could not explain the severity of her illness, just as with Lady Madeline in the story. Also, the fact that Roderick was so eerily close to his sister suggested it was not just a brotherly-sisterly love that they shared. Again, Virginia was Poes’ cousin, which was a cursed love affair from its conception. It is not a mere coincidence that Usher is so deathly sick and one step closer to the grave because of the illness of his beloved Lady Madeline. Clearly, Poe is expressing through this story the torment he suffered while his wife was dying. I believe he included that Usher and Madeline were twins to dramatize the closeness, which he and Virginia shared. “ A striking similitude between the brother and sister now first arrested my attention; and Usher, divining, perhaps, my thoughts murmured a few words from which I learned that the deceased and himself had been twins and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them” (1277).
As the story draws to a conclusion, Usher (Poe) is tortured by a sound of “feeble” movements. He knows that it is his sister but he ignores it for many days. He does not want to come to terms with the gruesome truth that he has buried her alive. This, I believe, symbolizes Poe’s helplessness in the demise of Virginia’s health. Virginia was malnourished and could not receive proper medical attention because he could not afford it. Usher hearing the sounds of Madeline in a living tomb, was a mirror image of his inadequateness and the guilt he felt over losing her. Just as Usher sent Madeline to an early grave, Poe had done the same for Virginia, who was only fourteen when she passed away.
At the height of the transcendental ere, Thoreau was enjoying the solitude of Walden and Emerson was helping America understand his Unitarian beliefs in “The Over-Soul”, Poe horrified us with his gruesome accounts of death. It is an unsolved mystery with n irresistible magnetism that one can become fixated upon and Poe seemed to be a master of captivating the spirit of it. Of course, the work which the artist crates m is often definitive of the life he lived. Poe did not share the same beliefs as his contemporaries did. Death and poverty brought on much of his unhappiness, which is why he was an expert writer on the subject. Fist, there was the death of his mother and then his wife Virginia. In both instance Poe loved them so much, yet he was helpless to either of them.
Unlike such authors as Hawthorne and Longfellow, he did not have the luxury of a permanent place he could call home. He often lacked the financial mans to live a suitable life. One might say where he lacked in monetary value; he made up for in literary brilliance. If you want to analyze the significance of God as a superior being and or his presence in Nature, then the transcendentalist would be your choice of author. However, if you want to be entertained by horror and become so obsessed with the concept of death that you question your won sanity, bay all means seek the master—Edgar Allen Poe.
Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The American Tradition in Literature. Ed. Barbara and George Perkins. Boston: McGraw-Hill College, 1999
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