The Fall of the House of Usher
by Edgar Allan Poe
Analysis: What’s Up with the Title?
There are several levels on which we can interpret this title. First is the actual, physical House of Usher, the mansion the narrator visits and the setting for the story. At the end of the story, the House of Usher falls, literally, into the tarn or pool of water in front of the house. As we discuss in “Symbols, Imagery, and Allegory,” the small fissure that the narrator sees upon first arrival foreshadows this fall. We know there’s something wrong in the House of Usher, and it is indeed at this fissure that the House ultimately splits in two.
We can move on to the symbolic meaning of the title. The narrator makes a point of telling us that the term “The House of Usher” refers no only to the estate, but to the family as well, the Usher bloodline. The title refers not just to the literal fall of the physical house, but the metaphorical fall of the Usher family. The narrator revealed that Roderick and his sister were the last two alive in the family, so when they die, so dies the whole family.
This decline, too, is foreshadowed in the text. Usher prophecies his own death to the narrator in exactly the manner it takes place: he believes he will die from fear. It’s worth noting that Roderick’s death is yet another literal fall – he and Madeline collapse to the ground together.
It’s probably no coincidence that Roderick literally falls, the bloodline falls in the death of the twins, and the house collapses all at the same time at the story’s conclusion. This contributes to the story’s fantastical nature. The pieces fit together just a little too neatly; symbols are tied to action a bit too strongly, reminding us that we’re not in a realistic world here. Also remember Roderick’s insistence that the house is sentient – there’s a stronger tie between the Usher family and the Usher mansion than we might expect. You could think of the house as a third member of the Usher family: Roderick, Madeline, and the House. Or you could think of Roderick, Madeline, and the house as all being part of the same person (see “Character Analysis” where we discuss the theory that Roderick and Madeline share one soul).