Study Guide

The Fall of the House of Usher Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

By Edgar Allan Poe

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Reality and Art

You might have noticed a strange mingling of the fictional with the real in this story. Roderick’s artistic creations have a definite connection with what happens to the House of Usher. He paints an underground tomb; Madeline is entombed underground. He sings about the decline of a house; the House of Usher declines. He screams that the dead Madeline is standing at the door – and so she is at the door. In fact, way back the beginning of the story Roderick declares that will die from fear, which in fact comes true at the end of the tale.

One possibility is that Roderick, with his magic, lustrous eye, can foresee the future. He knows these events will transpire and so he prophecies them aloud. Another possibility is that Roderick actually causes these things to happen, so that he is consumed by fear he manifests his fear in reality, along with the help of some magic pixie dust from his haunted mansion.

Doubling

We’ve seen that art mirrors reality in this story, but there are several other cases of “doubling” or “reflection” going on. Starting off the story is the inverted reflection of the House of Usher in the tarn that lies before the house. You’ve also got the inverted dichotomy between Madeline and Usher, twins, but male/female, mental/physical (see “Character Analysis”), alive/dead. Dichotomy means a division between two opposing things.

The House of Usher

See “What’s Up with the Title?” for a full discussion.

The Small Fissure

The narrator observes a crack in the mansion upon his arrival to the Usher estate. Since he’s just mentioned that “The House of Usher” refers both to the family and the building, we should have an eye out for symbolic connections between the two. And indeed, we can see this small fissure as representative of a disruption in the unity of the family, more specifically, between Madeline and her brother. This is the disruption that ultimately tears the family – and the mansion – to pieces.

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