STORY REVIEW: THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” first published in 1839, is a story that clearly demonstrates Poe’s great influence on the genre of horror. Although the plot of Poe’s “Usher” may now be seen as that of a cliché horror tale, Poe’s detailed writing style makes the story convincing and the dark atmosphere fits the nightmarish plot perfectly.
In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the unnamed first-person narrator is invited to the house of his old friend Roderick Usher. It soon becomes clear that this house is haunted by the Usher family history. The remaining descendants, Usher and his twin sister lady Madeline, both suffer from a mental illness. When Madeline dies, the narrator and Usher entomb her body beneath the house. Usher can’t handle the death of his sister and seems to go mad. One night, Madeline suddenly appears in a bloody nightgown and violently kills her brother. As the narrator escapes, the house collapses.
From the very first line until the end, Poe uses great detail to describe the story’s setting, which makes you feel like you’re actually ‘watching’ the story. Poe also describes his characters with excellent detail, making them nearly tangible. You can almost see the ‘dark and tattered draperies’ move in the ‘rising tempest’, or touch Usher’s ‘hair of more than web-like softness’. As a result of Poe’s detailed writing style, the story is very effective.
Poe’s continuous use of words like ‘dark’ and ‘decay’ to describe the setting gives the story the gloomy mood that dominates the story. The narrator constantly refers to the ‘oppression’ he feels, which, combined with his allusions to dreaming, is reminiscent of the oppressiveness felt in nightmares, when you can’t breathe or run away. Poe thus successfully transfers to the reader the dark atmosphere and the feeling of oppression ideal for the nightmarish plot of the story.
With regards to the plot of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” it’s possible, as a modern reader, to see the story as a cliché horror tale. Yet, this doesn’t mean that Poe’s story is unsuccessful. At the moment of reading, the appearance of lady Madeline in her bloody white robes might not seem very scary. This image, however, is one that will linger in your mind to return and haunt you later. A story with this effect can rightly be called a successful horror story.
In short, Poe’s detailed description of the setting and characters, the oppressive mood he creates through his brilliant use of words, and the impression his story leaves in the reader’s mind to come back and haunt them later is what gives “The Fall of the House of Usher” its quality; it is not just another horror story.