Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” – Short Summary & Literary Analysis

Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher, Short Summary, themes, characters, symbols, setting, literary analysis
Harry Clarke’s illustration of “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Edgar Allan Poe’s macabre short story involves a setting, characters, symbols, and themes that build on events leading to the deaths of the Usher siblings. (Image: Public Domain)

Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” depicts the events that take place upon the meeting of the narrator and his childhood friend Roderick in the Ushers’ house. Poe is known for his macabre literary works. For example, in this short story, he portrays the House of Usher, the two Ushers (Roderick and Madeline), and the fall of the House of Usher in a gloomy way that evokes fear and dread of something dark and sinister. The literary piece is a showcase of the power of macabre themes in attracting readers and arousing their interest. Poe successfully intertwines friendship, death, and fear in a self-fulfilling prophecy about the Ushers’ demise. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the reader is prompted to develop associations among these subjects of horror to understand the behaviors of the characters and what the author wants to deliver as his thesis in this short story.

Edgar Allan Poe is an American author whose popularity is linked to his effective use of symbolism and themes that involve or revolve around death, decay, fear, horror, and darkness, such as in “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Many of his literary works, such as “The Raven,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Masque of Red Death,” are depictions of such macabre themes. “The Fall of the House of Usher” relates to other pieces of literature that involve the theme of death, such as William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

Brief Summary of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”

The narrator arrives at the House of Usher. He received a letter from his childhood friend, Roderick Usher, who requests his visit. Upon arriving, the narrator notes the crumbling structure of the Ushers’ house and the gloomy surroundings, including the tarn and dead trees. He proceeds and meets Roderick inside a gloomy room with high ceilings, huge windows, and old furniture and décor. The narrator discovers that his friend is ill with hypochondria. He also notes that Roderick’s sister, Madeline, is ill and exhibits bouts of a deathlike condition. The two Ushers, the last remaining members of their family, are frail. The narrator stays in the House of Usher.

Eventually, Roderick tells the narrator that Madeline has died. They put Madeline’s body into the family tomb located inside the house. Days pass and the narrator grows paranoid. One night, unable to sleep, he paces in his room and Roderick enters. Roderick is also unable to sleep. He opens the window and they see the tarn glowing in the storm. The narrator reads the novel, “The Mad Trist,” to Roderick in an attempt to lighten the mood. As the narrator reads, the events in the novel coincide with strange noises in the House of Usher. The two are petrified to find Madeline standing by the doorway. Roderick exclaims that he knew his twin sister was alive when she was placed in the tomb. Madeline falls onto Roderick, and they both fall dead on the floor. The narrator runs out of the house and, upon noticing the moonlight, looks back to find the House of Usher falling, and the tarn swallowing the crumbling structure.

Brief Analysis and Explanation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”

Themes. Various themes are notable in Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” For example, the theme of fear and paranoia is depicted throughout the story. This theme is observable in the behaviors of Roderick Usher and the narrator. Also, death is a theme represented throughout the short story. For instance, the narrator notes death and decay at the beginning, and the Usher siblings die at the end. In addition, the theme of friendship is reflected in the interactions between Roderick and the narrator. Even the narrator’s thoughts indicate the kind of friendship he has with Roderick. Moreover, the plot of Poe’s short story, leading to the actual fall of the House of Usher, depicts a self-fulfilling prophecy, which is a theme linked to the characters’ actions. In summary, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” involves the following themes:

Characters. The characters in “The Fall of the House of Usher” relate to the macabre nature of the setting. As evident in the summary above, the narrator and Roderick Usher are the main characters and their decisions and actions shape the story’s plot. For example, Roderick’s decision to put Madeline’s supposedly dead body into the family tomb leads to her actual death. In addition, based on Poe’s characterization, the House of Usher is a character in the short story. It has qualities and characteristics that establish the thematic frame and mood throughout the story. In summary, the following main characters are in Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”:

  • The narrator
  • Roderick Usher
  • Madeline Usher
  • The House of Usher

Symbols and Symbolism. Edgar Allan Poe is known for using symbols that evoke horror or dread in his literary works. In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” such symbolism adds meaning to the story. For example, the Ushers’ house is a symbol that represents decay, death and decline. On the other hand, the crack in the house symbolizes the Usher siblings’ problems, as well as the progression of their lives toward death. Moreover, the tarn is symbolic of the inevitable ending that closes upon the House of Usher as it falls and disappears. In summary, Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” has the following symbols:

  • The House of Usher
  • The crack
  • The tarn

Setting. The setting of “The Fall of the House of Usher” depicts the time and space of the events and their occurrences in the story. Edgar Allan Poe sets his short story in and around the House of Usher. The above summary shows that he interconnects various aspects of the house, its surroundings, the characters, and the plot. The Ushers’ house is a central component of this setting because most of the events of the story happen inside or in the vicinity of the house.

Works Cited and References

  • Athitakis, Mark. “Edgar Allan Poe’s Hatchet Jobs.Humanities, Fall, 2017. National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • Bailey, James O. “What Happens in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’?” American Literature 35.4 (1964): 445-466.
  • Namin, Hajar Salimi. “Presenting a Model for Setting in Narrative Fiction Illustration.” Journal of History Culture and Art Research 6.6 (2017): 73-83.
  • Patterson, R. “Once upon a Midnight Dreary: The Life and Addictions of Edgar Allan Poe.” CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal 147.8 (1992): 1246-1248.
  • Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Fall of the House of Usher.Edgar Allan Poe: Storyteller. 2nd ed. Office of English Language Programs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State, 2013.
  • Poe, Edgar Allan. The Fall of the House of Usher. 1839. The Poe Museum.
  • Spitzer, Leo. “A Reinterpretation of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.” Comparative Literature 4.4 (1952): 351-363.