Friendship is a major theme in Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 short story, “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The plot revolves around the Ushers’ mansion, the narrator, and Roderick and his illness. The thematic frame of friendship provides readers with meaningful interpretations of the characters’ interactions. For example, this theme helps in understanding the narrator’s decision to go to the House of Usher. Despite the impending fall or doom linked to the theme of fear and the theme of death and decay throughout “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the narrator stays in the house. This decision is justified when viewed under the lens of the friendship between the narrator and Roderick Usher. Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” presents friendship as a theme that explains the characters’ behaviors as the plot develops toward the fall of the house and the end of the Usher bloodline.
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” contain the friendship theme, which is also notable in the author’s other literary works, such as “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Raven,” and “The Black Cat.” In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” as in the following quotes, the friendship theme is pronounced in how the narrator goes through challenges to help his friend, Roderick.
Friend as a Comforter in the House of Usher (Quote #1)
As Poe’s short story begins, the narrator describes his friend’s letter, which has led him to arrive at the House of Usher. The scene presents death and decay of and around the house, as well as the theme of friendship. This friendship influences the characters’ decisions and related events in the “The Fall of the House of Usher.” The narrator describes his perception in the following quote:
- “The writer spoke of acute bodily illness — of a mental disorder which oppressed him — and of an earnest desire to see me, as his best, and indeed his only personal friend, with a view of attempting, by the cheerfulness of my society, some alleviation of his malady. It was the manner in which all this, and much more, was said — it the apparent heart that went with his request — which allowed me no room for hesitation; . . .” (Poe )
The above text excerpt establishes the idea that friends provide comfort. The narrator says that he is Roderick’s best and only personal friend. Poe clarifies why Roderick desires the narrator’s visit to the House of Usher. The quotation depicts the theme of friendship in “The Fall of the House of Usher” by showing that friends are a source of comfort. For example, Roderick hopes to achieve some alleviation of his illness through the narrator’s visit. Moreover, Quote #1 indicates that this theme involves an obligation to provide comfort to friends. To the narrator, there is no room for hesitation about Roderick Usher’s request. They hope to prevent Roderick’s self-fulfilling prophecy about his death and, consequently, the fall of the House of Usher. Based on Quote #1 and the friendship theme, Poe illustrates the narrator’s visit as Roderick’s attempt at preventing the fall of the House of Usher.
Limits of Friendship between the Narrator and Roderick Usher (Quote #2)
Friendship influences the rapport between Roderick and the narrator. However, this theme exhibits limits in how friends know each other. This limitation affects the narrator’s decision to visit the House of Usher. For example, if he fully knew Usher’s mind, the narrator would have hesitated in paying a visit to his friend. In the following quote, the narrator talks about such limitation linked to the theme of friendship in “The Fall of the House of Usher”:
- “Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and habitual.”
Quote #2 explicitly illustrates limits in friendship. In this thematic frame of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe shows that intimacy does not guarantee in-depth knowledge of one’s friends. For example, based on the quote, the narrator is an intimate associate of Usher. Still, he acknowledges that he knew little of his friend. The quote points to Roderick’s excessive and habitual reserve as the cause of such limitation. In this scene, Poe shows that this limit is a possible factor in the narrator’s ineffectiveness at alleviating Usher’s malady. Based on this quote and the theme of friendship, such limitation contributes to the fall of Roderick and Madeline, and the fall of the House of Usher.
Friendship as a Process in Poe’s Short Story (Quote #3)
Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” exhibits the friendship theme in terms of friendship as a process involving the narrator and Roderick Usher. This process involves knowledge about friends and interactions with them, such as the conversations that transpire in the House of Usher. Relevant to this theme, the narrator describes his interaction with Roderick in the following quote:
- “For several days ensuing . . . I was busied in earnest endeavours to alleviate the melancholy of my friend. We painted and read together; or I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild improvisations of his speaking guitar. And thus, as a closer and still intimacy admitted me more unreservedly into the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I perceive the futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which darkness . . . poured forth upon all objects of the moral and physical universe. . . .”
Edgar Allan Poe’s portrayal of the narrator and Roderick Usher, as in the above excerpt from the short story, paints the theme of friendship as an interpersonal process. For example, the quotation shows that this process involves interactions and efforts involving Roderick and the narrator. During his stay in the House of Usher, the narrator endeavors to alleviate his friend’s melancholic condition, such as by painting and reading with Roderick. Based on Quote #3, “The Fall of the House of Usher” involves knowing more about Roderick as a friend. Within this thematic context of friendship as a process, the narrator discovers that his endeavors are futile because darkness already possesses his friend. Based on this darkness, the reader may interpret the scene as a way of setting a dark outlook about Roderick’s demise and the fall of the House of Usher. Quote #3 characterizes the friendship theme as a process that is ineffective at preventing the end of the Usher family.
Explanation & Importance of the Friendship Theme in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”
The theme of friendship adds meanings for the interpretation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. For example, the cited quotes indicate friendship as a source of comfort, as a limited relationship, and as a process. These quotes show that the friendship theme applies to the two male characters of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” while Madeline remains disengaged, which implies the theme of sex discrimination against women. Still, as illustrated in the quotes, the theme of friendship draws readers’ attention to the interactions between Roderick and the narrator, and how these interactions influence the events in the House of Usher and the building’s fall and disappearance.
Friendship is an important theme that helps make “The Fall of the House of Usher” realistic. This theme enables the reader to justify the narrator’s decision to visit and remain in the Ushers’ mansion. Also, the theme helps maintain the two friends’ dynamics, where the narrator exerts effort in helping Roderick throughout much of the short story, as the cited quotes describe. The friendship theme spans the entire plot, and this friendship ends with the death of the Ushers and the fall of the House of Usher.
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.
- Mautner, Renata R. “The Self, the Mirror, the Other: ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.” Poe Studies – Old Series 10.2 (1977): 33-35.
- Poe, Edgar Allan . The Fall of the House of Usher. 1839. The Poe Museum.
- 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.
- Robinson, E. Arthur. “Order and Sentience in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 76.1 (1961): 68-81.
- Saliba, David R. A Psychology of Fear: The Nightmare Formula of Edgar Allan Poe. University Press of America, 1980.
- Sun, Chunyan. “Horror from the Soul – Gothic Style in Allan Poe’s Horror Fictions.” English Language Teaching 8.5 (2015): 94-99.