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The Setting in the Fall of the House of Usher, Essay Example

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Essay

In Edgar Allan Poe’s American short story classic The Fall of the House of Usher, the unidentified narrator (presumably Poe himself) opens the tale with a vivid description of the landscape before him as he travels on horseback–“I had been passing alone. . . through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher” (6). Thus, through the eyes of the unknown narrator, the setting in which he finds the melancholy home of his childhood friend Roderick Usher serves as a foreboding symbol or metaphor for what is to come in the narration, for shortly after, the narrator declares that “with the first glimpse of the building (the House of Usher), a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit” (6). Poe’s use of the word “gloom” is an apt way of saying that the narrator has just entered a place filled with morbidity and death which is highlighted by the desolation of the vegetation that surrounds him–“a few rank sedges” and a “few white trunks of decayed trees” (6) that stand in contrast to the darkness of the environment.

The narrator then proceeds to describe what he sees in relation to the House of Usher, a sort of decayed monument that rises out of a dark tarn–“I looked upon the scene before me–upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain–upon the bleak walls–upon the vacant eye-like windows” (6) that gaze down upon him. In essence, this landscape which the narrator has so far described represents “an utter depression of soul” that cannot be compared to any “earthly sensation” (6), an indication that the landscape stands out of space and out of time.  It is as if the setting is alive, as if it is an entity that lives and breathes morbidity and decay and exudes extreme melancholy, sadness, and despair, much like some events in Poe’s own life, such as the early death of his beloved wife Virginia and the deaths of so many other women whom Poe considered as ethereal and everlasting.

As pointed out in the notes to The Fall of the House of Usher, Poe’s short stories and many of his poems, such as “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee,” are “remarkable not only for (their) unusual anxiety about life, a preoccupation with loss, (and) an all-consuming terror,” they also express themes and motifs that are usually associated with English Romanticism and the Gothic, such as a foreboding castle lorded over by a strange nobleman. Interestingly, the unidentified narrator mentions that the setting reminds him of the “after-dream of the reveller upon opium” (6) or some sort of strange and perverse nightmare that one might experience when under the influence of opium which perhaps in the narrator’s case is laudanum which Poe allegedly used several times during his short life.

To make the scene before him even starker and more melancholy, the narrator adds that the House of Usher stands next to the “precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn” or lake that “lay in unruffled lustre” amid the “ghastly tree-stems” and the “vacant and eye-like windows” (6). Overall, this setting symbolizes a place of evil and decadence where Roderick Usher lives with his sister Madelaine. But most importantly, the setting described at the beginning of this short story serves as the foundation for the rest of the tale which takes the reader from “one gloomy location to another with added intensity and great suspense” (Quinn 256).

Works Cited

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Fall of the House of Usher. Enotes. Web. 2011. 5 May 2013.  <http://www.enotes.com/fall-house-usher-text>.

Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography. New York: Appleton-   Century-Crofts, 1969.

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