Psycho-analysis of Allan Poe in “The Fall of the House of Usher”

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The aim of psychoanalytic critique is to offer a greater comprehension of work by analyzing and interpreting particular details from the author's point of view. The aim is to delve deeper into the text form, well beyond the surface of the essay, by studying the psyche and behaviors that are important in conveying additional significance to the reader. Thus, the focus of a psychoanalytic approach is to investigate the author`s work from the intricacies of his mind in a bid to explain how the narration came into being as well as the role of characters who play a pivotal role in providing additional information. In this article, I aim to investigate Edgar Poe`s renowned stories, in particular, “The Fall of the House of Usher” through psychoanalytic lenses by focusing on the two main characters and their interaction with the spooky mansion. Through such analysis, it will be possible to determine how Poe`s personal experiences influenced the direction of the story and how his mental state can be determined as well.

‘The Fall of the House of Usher” is a highly complex story written on the lines of gothic horror. Impressively, Poe`s reliance on symbolism is similar to how he saw the cracks in his own life, more so after the death of his parents (Quinn, 72). Poe vividly describes the mansion by providing additional information on the physical appearance of the material used in the house and the environment as well. As Poe describes, “ Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down in a zig zag direction until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn”(6). From a critical point of view, the crack had significant meaning, more so in the unfolding of the plot. In fact, the fissure was a representation of the strain in Madeline`s and Roderick`s and how it would eventually lead to the climax of the story. Moreover, the crack can be taken as a representation of a looming disaster that emanates from the tension between two polarized sides (Bonaparte, 33). Poe`s life can be described as a bitter sweet journey where he experienced a troubled childhood, more so after his mother`s demise. His father bailed on his family a year before Poe`s mother passed on. Fortunately, he was unofficially adapted by John Allan and his wife where he grew into young adulthood. Allan and Poe clashed on numerous occasions, especially in regards to debts and upkeep. Therefore, Poe noticed the cracks in his life right after the death of his mother which symbolized the imminent collapse that would see him have a troubled childhood. This can be related to his depiction of the story and how the crack, albeit difficult to view, represented the eventual destruction of the house of Usher.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” has since its release received critical acclaim for its directness and ability to target complex mental ideologies. What is more, various arguments emanated over whether Madeline truly existed or whether she was an imagination thought up by Roderick and the narrator. Roderick`s mental disintegration was in more ways than one relatable to Madeline`s physical decline. To put it in perspective, Poe was in real life also affected by diseases both directly and indirectly. His deadbeat dad and wife died from tuberculosis. The challenges faced by Poe, including the death of his mother played a pivotal role in his narrations. A closer look at the ‘Fall of the House of Usher” enables the reader to understand the importance of the narrator. Although the narrator`s name is not mentioned, he plays a crucial role in narrating how family is affected by tragedy in the story. One can easily note that, despite the affliction and high level of atrocity occurring at the ‘haunted Usher mansion’, the narrator is surprisingly unharmed. Towards the end, as Roderick and Madeline meet their respective demises, the narrator is described as long gone and at a safe location where he views as the house collapses. This can be related, in a way, to Poe`s life. At some point, Poe felt that his personal and family issues affected him and his family only (Bonaparte, 45). From the death of his mother, to that of his dad and wife as well, all the harmful effects of the diseases affected him directly. Similarly, Roderick was affected by the imminent death of his sister claiming, “The peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to a more natural and far more palpable origin, to the severe and long-continued illness of a tenderly beloved sister” (Poe, 10). This serves to indicate Poe`s distress in regards to his sister's condition yet the narrator, as an external party was not affected. Thus, it is not astonishing to see how he depicts diseases throughout the story as he believes they are a vital part of human life and only close people to the sick ones are affected either by the disease or death.

Compassion emerges as a theme in the story as the narrator honors Roderick`s letter and decides to visit his childhood friend. It would be easy for the narrator to decline the invitation and choose to continue with his activities but he took his time and made way to the mansion where he was to reunite with his childhood friend. As a child, Poe underwent numerous life-changing situations that made him mature at an early age. Despite the challenges he faced as a child, he was proud that his foster family took him since they could have decided not to if they so wished. Similarly, in his writing of the tragic thrilling story, he represents the narrator as a good friend who is genuinely concerned about the Ushers and is more than willing to help his friend in all his requests. This assertion can be seen in the narrator`s acceptance to assist in entombing Madeline, “At the request of Usher, I personally aided him in the arrangements for the temporary entombment” (Poe, 17). Although Poe had a fairly tragic and difficult childhood, he appreciated the foster family, especially the foster mom for her compassion towards him as well as Allan`s influence in his life as a father figure. The gratitude explains why Edgar chose to keep Allan`s name as his middle name since he was in awe of the compassion and assistance provided by the foster family despite the numerous challenges that arose. As a result of this, in his story “The Fall of the House of Usher”, Poe portrays the narrator as the compassionate character in the story, the one who offered assistance when least expected, the only individual Roderick could count for assistance during the trying period.

Edgar Poe is regarded as one of America`s most instrumental writers who set the bar high in regards to literature and short stories. Poe was highly passionate about writing and pursued a career in writing after failed attempts to serve in the army (Wiratningsih, 44). His interest in literature played a pivotal role in his short story as can be seen from some of the styles he used. Poe featured several allusions to other artistic works, more so, Sir Launcelot`s “Mad Trist” and “The Haunted Place”. Poe`s use of initially written stories highlights his passion for writing and reading pieces written by other renowned artists. His preference for gothic horror can be traced to his childhood where growing up he would often find solace in reading depressing or gothic books. With time, Poe`s interest in dark gothic stories increased which influenced the direction of his plots as an author.

Poe grew up as a lonely child. However, he grew up lonely despite having brothers. Consequently, this played a massive role in developing his gambling and drug problems which limited his progress in school (Quinn, 83). In “The Fall of the House of Usher”, the two main characters are described as lonely individuals who were the last of the ‘Usher’ generation. What is more, both Roderick and Madeline were dying painful deaths and had no one to assist them. The only thing Roderick had was his sister and of course the mansion which was a family heritage. Therefore, it is evident that the author, Poe, was structuring the story based on his lonely experiences. The loneliness that made him lose himself and direction was the same loneliness that transformed Roderick to a sickly isolated man with no one on his side; expect his sister who was also sickly and lonely. Indeed, by analyzing the story from a critical perspective, it is possible to determine that Poe relied heavily on his personal experiences as influences in his narration. Growing up as a lonely child, he understood that his brothers, too, were lonely as well. They ended up as drug addicts whose life never matured into purpose. Similarly, he depicts the negativities of seclusion and lacking companionship to the health and development of an individual. And as expected, he portrays the outcomes as highly negative, just as they were negative from his personal experience.

Tragedy is a common theme in almost all of Poe`s stories. Death has to linger in Poe`s narration, a characteristic which can be traced back to his personal experiences. Losing his mother at a tender age was a major blow to his entire family and his development as a child. Additionally, the theatre fire that followed weeks after his mother`s death was an event that shook the whole of Virginia at that time. Young Poe began understanding the effects of death from an early age. In ‘The Fall of the House of Usher”, Poe describes Roderick as a disturbed and agitated character after the entombment of his sister. After entombing her and assuming she was dead, Roderick`s life became meaningless as he lost his purpose and the desire to carry on with his normal activities due to the ‘death’ of his sister. This can be seen from the narrator's description of how Roderick was after the perceived death of Madeline, “His ordinary manner had vanished, his ordinary occupations were neglected or forgotten, he roamed from chamber to chamber with hurried, unequal, and objectless step” (Poe, 18). The descriptions provided by the anonymous narrator help increase the reader`s understanding of the challenges people face after losing their loved ones. It is as if Poe was providing a glimpse of what he went through as a child and even as an adult. The confusion that consumed Roderick was similar to that he experienced at the thought of living his life without his beloved mother. Once again, Poe appears to rely on his personal experiences in writing the short story which enabled him to assemble the right vocabularies, use the right tone and the appropriate setting to convey the critically acclaimed story.

In conclusion, “The Fall of the House of Usher” is not only a scary yet thrilling read but also a sentimental read in regards to Poe`s background. From the story, the reader can understand Poe`s perspective of disaster and atrocity. The fissure symbolism at the start of the story was a representation of the downfall of the Usher generation which similarly could be related to the death of Poe`s mother which symbolized the hardships Poe would encounter as an orphan child. Additionally, the theme of loneliness also plays a part in describing Poe`s childhood and early life where he struggled with different addictions as a result of his dysfunctional social life. Finally, the death of a loved one is portrayed as a highly influential factor in anyone`s life, more so in his description of how the perceived death of Madeline affected Roderick. Indeed, based on the psycho-analysis of Poe`s work, it is safe to conclude that his difficult personal issues played a pivotal role on how the plot, theme and direction he gave his various works, in particular, ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.

Works Cited

Bonaparte, Marie. The life and works of Edgar Allan Poe: A psycho-analytic interpretation. The Hogarth Press Ltd, 1949.

Poe, Edgar Allan. The fall of the house of Usher: and other tales. Penguin, 2006.

Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: a critical biography. JHU Press, 1997.

Wiratningsih, Riah. Mystery as Seen in Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Stories The Fall of The House of Usher, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Black Cat. Diss. Universitas Sebelas Maret, 2003.

January 18, 2023



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