The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
In The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe we have the theme of conflict, isolation, fear, control, powerlessness and friendship. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed male narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Poe may be exploring the theme of conflict. Roderick is in conflict with himself. Which may help to explain the ‘madness’ that the narrator feels Roderick is succumbing to. He knows that he is the last remaining male in the House of Usher and that Madeline through her illness may never marry. While he himself, due to his mental fragility, also realises that on his death the House of Usher will fall. If anything things for Roderick and Madeline are as bleak as the setting of the story. Madeline too is in conflict though not necessarily with herself. She isolates herself from the world which may leave some readers to suggest that Madeline’s sense of conflict is external. She finds it difficult to live in her environment. Which may or may not be controlled by Roderick. It is noticeable that Madeleine does not have any type of freedom nor does she engage with others like the narrator.
It is also interesting that Roderick asks the narrator to help him to overcome his ‘madness’ however it is the same ‘madness’ that kills Roderick. It is as though Roderick is left powerless by his ‘madness.’ Just as he is trying to control Madeline he is unable to control his own mind. Which may suggest that Poe is introducing irony into the story. There is also a sense that the narrator too is powerless to help Roderick. He does after all try however he ultimately fails possibly due to the fact that he does not understand the magnitude of the job at hand. For Roderick to get better he not only needs to change his environment but his mind set too. Something that he refuses to do. It is as through Roderick knows that he must fall like the House of Usher must fall. If anything Roderick is paralysed by his environment and unable to let things progress as they must. The narrator’s friendship with Roderick can’t be underestimated either. Though he has long lost contact with Roderick. When asked he immediately comes to help Roderick. Even if he does not fully understand the complexity of what is happening.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. In many ways the fall of the house mirrors Roderick and Madeline’s fall. Just as the house falls so too does the House of Usher. The narrator’s dark description of the House of Usher may also be important as Poe may be using the description of the house as foreshadowing to the darkness that occurs later on in the story with Madeline being entombed yet she is still alive. It might also be worth noting that some critics have suggested that Madeline’s smile (or smirk) while she is being entombed by Roderick and the narrator is a sign that Madeline is still alive and that it is her intention to get revenge on Roderick by killing him for the life she feels she may have been forced to live. If anything there appears to be no love lost between Madeleine and Roderick. Though Madeleine only makes brief appearances. She does not engage with anyone not even Roderick. In reality both siblings may not be as close to one another as a reader would expect a sibling to be and the reality may be that Madeline simply does not like Roderick.
The end of the story is also interesting as it becomes clear to the reader that the narrator is overwhelmed by fear. Hence his sudden desire to leave the house when he sees Madeline. It is as though the narrator cannot understand how Madeline can be alive. It is also interesting that the narrator does not intervene when Madeline attacks Roderick as this would further suggest to the reader just how afraid the narrator actually is. It is also clear to the reader that Roderick was aware that he entombed Madeline when she was still alive. Something that he admits to the narrator as the narrator is reading the story. If anything the story the narrator is reading mirrors what occurs for Roderick. Something that the narrator is only too aware of. However he feels as though he is powerless to do anything to help Roderick. Roderick is to die as too is Madeleine while the narrator flees from the house. Possibly relieved that he has escaped with his life. Throughout the story the narrator has tried to help Roderick but in the end Roderick’s ‘madness’ has been too overpowering. In reality the narrator can count himself lucky that he did escape with his life after his brief encounter with Roderick and Madeline.