The Fall of the House of Usher
What’s Up With the Ending?
Let’s talk about the freaky scene BEFORE the ending before we talk about the actual ending. First, Madeline is back from the dead. There are several different ways to think about this reappearance, which we talk about in “Character Analysis.” It could be that Madeline’s ghost is back to take vengeance on her brother for intentionally burying her alive. It could be that she and Roderick are really two halves of the same person, and so one cannot live without the other. It could be that she is a manifestation of Roderick’s fears, not an honest-to-goodness “ghost.”
Then you’ve got Roderick’s death. Remember that he predicted his death earlier in the text, and supposed that it would be caused by fear. This is good evidence for the argument that Madeline is just a manifestation of his fears. As we discuss in “What’s Up With the Title?”, Roderick’s literal fall to the floor is tantamount to the fall of the Usher bloodline, and is accompanied by the physical fall of the house itself.
Now onto the final line of the story. If you’re reading “Usher” online, or if you’ve got a less-than-accurate hard copy in your hands, you might be missing the idiosyncrasy of the last line, which Poe wrote like this:
“[…] and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the ‘HOUSE OF USHER.’” (42)
Those are not our capitals; they were part of Poe’s text, and they’re definitely not easy to nail down. Why would he put these words in capitals and in quotes?
Quotes generally indicate that you’re using someone else’s terminology rather than your own; there’s a sense of irony, as opposed to genuine intention. Recall that in “What’s Up With the Epigraph” we discuss the possibility that this entire work is fiction by the deranged mind of Roderick Usher. If this is the case, then we can rationalize the formatting of these final few words. The text revealed that the peasants around the estate coined the name “House of Usher” to refer both to the mansion and to the family who owned it. Either to Roderick Usher or to the narrator – whoever you think composed the tale – this phase belongs to someone else; it is not his own, and he uses quotes to indicate as much. What we mean is that the quotes emphasize the artificiality of this phrase. The phrase is used as though it belongs to someone else.
As far as capitals go, we can’t tell you definitively. From one perspective, it adds a gravity and ominousness to the very definitive ending: just imagine a deep, movie-announcer voice booming, “THE HOUSE OF USHER.” On the other hand, it could be ironic melodrama, though we find this interpretation less likely given that Poe was really all about the theatricality. (Melodramatic means overly dramatic, and most of Poe’s stories are full of it.) Read any Poe story – or just read “Usher,” and this will be painfully obvious.