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Edgar allen poes symbolism of death in the fall

Edgar Allen Poe's Symbolism of Death in "The Fall of the House of Usher"

Death is defined as, "The termination or extinction of something"

(American Heritage Dictionary). Edgar Allen Poe uses this description in "The

Fall of the House of Usher" in different ways. Poe's intention when writing

"The Fall of the House of Usher" was not to present a moral, lesson, or truth to

the reader; he was simply trying to bring forth a sense of terror to the reader.

Poe's mind works this way, and critics believe this statement, especially when

related to this story.

Edgar Allen Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809. His life was

filled with tragedies that started when he was ten months old and until he died

at age forty. These tragedies might be the answer to why Poe wrote in a way

that confuses most of his readers. "Abandoned, misunderstood, and broke

throughout his life, few would have predicted that Poe would one day achieve the

fame and respect now offered him in literacy circles in America and Europe—

particularly France" ("The Fall of the House of Usher" - Analysis, 5).

Poe is grouped with other writers in the Romantic period. Writers of

this period focused on life, emotions, and the existence of the human race.

Although Poe's work has many characteristics of Romanticism, "The Fall of the

House of Usher", falls into the Gothic category. "It is usually admired for its

‘atmosphere' and for its exquisitely artificial manipulation of Gothic claptrap

and decor"(Abel, 380).

Bringing forth the symbolism of death is a major part of this writing.

All of the characters in "The Fall of the House of Usher" are linked to death;

by physical objects or by other people. "There are no symbols of absolute good"

(Abel, 382).

The physical aspect of the House of Usher symbolizes death, in the

chain of events, during the story. Even Poe's description of the house has

deadly characteristics. Poe describes the house as having "eye-like windows"

and being covered by "minute fungi...hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the

eaves (fungi eats off the dead remains of other organisms); a barely perceptible

fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way

down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters

of the tarn"(Poe, 6-13) . This "fissure" is presented to the reader, early in

the story, to represent that Roderick's love for his twin sister, Madeline, was

dying, because she was suffering from a mysterious malady, or disease, that

baffled her doctors. This caused Roderick to be emotionally and physically

depressed, and was described as a madman at this point. "He was convinced that

his whole surroundings, the stones of the house, the fungi, the water in the

tarn , the very reflected image of the whole, was woven into a physical oneness

with the family, condensed, as it were, into one atmosphere—the special

atmosphere in which alone the Ushers could live. And it was this atmosphere

which had molded the destinies of his family" (Lawrence, 378).

Roderick invites a friend (the narrator) to the "House of Usher" to

visit and support him during this crisis. The narrator is involved in all of

Roderick's emotions and problems during the course of the story. He sees

Roderick's compassion for his sister during her illness. After Madeline dies he

assists Roderick in the placement of her body in a steal coffin in a vault under

the house. The reason for such protection of Madeline's body was the fear of

her doctors. They were so fascinated by the strangeness of her disease that

Roderick feared that they would steal her body for pathologic reasons.

Poe uses this whole scenario to show that Roderick really cared for his

sister. It was as though they were one being, relying on each other for life; "—

a brother, his twin sister, and their incredibly ancient house all sharing a

single soul and meeting one common dissolution at the same moment"(Lovecraft,

380). Once Madeline died, Roderick had lost part of himself. Madeline was his

connection in the human "realm". He knew that his love would eventually kill

her, and it did. They loved without any resistance and eventually dragged each

other to death. "For the Holy Ghost says you must not be as one thing with

another being. Each must abide by itself, and correspond only within certain

limits" (Lawrence, 378).

In the end, Roderick's guest (the narrator) finally expresses that

Roderick is truly a madman. The purpose for this is that Madeline was alive

when they sealed her in the coffin. Usher knew that he had done this many days

before, "Long-long-long-many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it-yet

I dared not-oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am!-I dared not-I dared not

speak! We have put her living in the tomb!" (Poe, 182). After Usher finally

speaks about what he knew, a figure of Madeline appears to them, "...but then

without those doors there did stand the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady

Madeline of Usher" (Poe, 182). She came back to receive Roderick's soul that

had been lost because of her non-existence. He fell to the floor and the

narrator flees the House of Usher. Roderick experiences physical death, and at

that instant his soul is set free restoring perfect unity.

Poe shows, in this instance, that their love for one another had ceased,

thus, breaking apart this "one being". The narrator notices the fissure again

while running away from his fear and terror. This time the fissure was widening,

and the House of Usher was no more. It had crumbled to the ground, representing

the no longer "human" existence of the Ushers. "While I gazed, this fissure

rapidly widened-there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind-the entire orb of

the satellite burst at once upon my sight...and the deep and dank tarn at my feet

closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the "House of Usher" (Poe,


Not only was the physical state of the "House of Usher" gone, but the

ancient family name or dynasty ,as it might be called, died also. Isolation and

paranoia caused the decay of the Usher roots. In the past, the Ushers were

noted for a long lasting family existence. Displayed through works of art and

"musical science". Roderick Usher fretted the death of his family, thus, making

him even more insane; which then, eventually led to his death.

Edgar Allen Poe achieves his lasting effect on the reader at the end.

The horror that he wanted the reader to experience is linked to the death or

"fall" (as in the name of the story) of a brother, sister, family name, and

house. All this desired effect puts the reader into shock, but also brings out

a good side. Life after death was the underlying meaning to this story.

Death usually means the end, but in a spiritual sense the soul is

brought back to a state of comfort and pleasantness. Even though all of the

characteristics of the Usher name were completely obliterated, it will live on

through the minds of Poe's readers. The readers can draw conclusions about

what happens after the death of Usher.

Poe was trying to present death as being so horrific that others

involved would be affected by what was to come. Realizing that his friend had

changed over the years, the narrator, feared for Roderick as for himself. Usher

was already in a state of madness when the narrator arrived. In this case, the

narrator could have been drawn into Roderick's lost state, but he did not let

himself get attached to the situation completely. If he hadn't left the scene

of terror, the narrator, would have died in the collapse of the house.

Understanding the symbolism of Poe's work can make the reader confused.

It seems as if all the characteristics of a person or an object are linked to

one theme. Death was the main theme of "The Fall of the House of Usher". Poe

scorned the use of symbolism in readings. "He said that as soon as the reader

became preoccupied with meaning, the emotional effect was lost...on the other

hand he believed that short stories should have ‘undercurrents of meaning'"

("The Fall of the House of Usher"- Analysis, 4). These statements are

contradictory to each other. He believed "both sides of the story".

Poe may not have realized that he was using some symbolism in "The Fall

of the House of Usher" when writing it. The expressions, in this story, were

usually not used by other writers. His viewpoint of life was unique compared to

the Romantic writers of the century. Most ideas that he wrote about were

wicked, but readers of all ages and interests enjoyed his work even a century

after his death. Poe was raised in harsh conditions, and for this reason,

probably could not control what he wrote.

Edgar Allen Poe's stories will live on through the hearts of readers

for years to come. They will scrutinize the symbolic meanings of his passages

and figure out their meanings. Poe was obsessed with death and, thus, his life

ended in his middle years. He might have been waiting for death to come to him.

He watched his life decay just like the narrator viewed the death of the Ushers.

Poe is "alive" in the minds of his readers and they are still horrified by his



1. Abel, Darrel. Introduction. The Science Fiction of Edgar Allen Poe. By

Edgar Allen Poe. Penguin Books, 1976.

2. "death". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. 1992


3. Lawrence, D.H. Studies in Classic American Literature. The Viking Press,


4. Lovecraft, Howard Phillips. Supernatural Horror in Literature. Dover

Publications, Inc., 1973.

5. Poe, Edgar Allen. "The Fall of the House of Usher". CD-ROM. Lake Ariel, PA:

Westwind Media, 1994.

6. Poe, Edgar Allen. Complete Tales and Poems. Secaucus, N.J.: Castle, a

Division of Book Sales, Inc., 1985.

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