Literary Qualities

Poe’s literary skill is readily apparent in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and one of his most vivid techniques is the story’s tone. Poe chooses details that highlight the terror of near madness, premature burial, and death and destruction. Foremost is his description of the gloomy Usher house, and the fissure that seems to extend from the house’s roof to the “sullen waters of the tarn.” Equally important in setting the tone is the violent storm on a night that is “singular in its terror and beauty.” The thunder crashes, the lightning bolts flash, and the wind howls as Madeline makes her way from the tomb to the door of Roderick’s study. Roderick’s and Madeline’s deaths are further heightened as the narrator notes that the “blood-red moon…now shone vividly through the once barely discernible fissure.”

Another literary device used masterfully by Poe is foreshadowing. Roderick’s terrible fate is foretold in the description of the house that totters on the brink of collapse. The details of the bleak exterior prepare the reader for the description of the house’s interior and of Roderick and Madeline Usher. Two other foreshadowing devices are Roderick’s painting of a vault which eventually becomes Madeline’s tomb and the narrator’s reading of Sir Lancelot Canning’s “Mad Twist,” the plot of which coincides with Madeline’s return from the tomb.

Poe also reinforces the story’s plot and theme with symbolism. The most obvious symbol is the Usher house, which stands now in stark contrast to its once vibrant history, a history alluded to in “The Haunted Palace.” The house’s windows, fungi, and fissure suggest Roderick’s rapidly decaying physical and mental states. By extension, Madeline’s barren womb also symbolizes the Usher lineage, house, and Roderick. When she dies, he is the last of the Ushers; when he dies, it will indeed be the fall of the House of Usher.

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