“The Fall of the House of Usher” is a short story in the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. Arabesque means “sinuous, spiraling motif”. Why the title just couldn’t be Tales of the Gross and Serpentine, we will never know.
Just The Facts
- Edgar Allan Poe was the original emo. All opinions to the contrary are wrong.
- Poe married his thirteen year old cousin when he was twenty-six.
- This past October, a funeral was held for Poe in Baltimore.
Just the Facts Pics
Pictured: attendees to Poe's funeral.
(I'm only writing this because you need at least 250 characters in these things, supposedly. So. How is everyone? How was your day at work? No, I'm not going to cook dinner. You promised to, last night. I don't care what your boss was going on about, I had to take care of two screaming kids all day. I knew I should have finished college!)
So...What Went Down?
We get introduced to the nameless narrator on a day when the clouds had been drinking too much and were ready to release their bladders over the unsuspecting people below. The narrator is riding horseback and as he gets a first glimpse of the House of Usher, he goes into a monologue of artistically rendered words, each syllable carefully chosen to exactly describe the House as well as add to the general atmosphere of death, darkness and the futility of life.
Run! Run far away!
After what must have been a moment just standing there and staring up at the House like an idiot, he clears his throat, stretches, and proceeds to stand there for a few more minutes. This time, however, he is remembering facts about the House's inhabitants. He claims that Roderick, the Master of the House of Usher, and he had been "intimate associates, yet I really knew little of my friend" (Poe, 662, yes, I'm citing). Since he didn't even know the man had a twin sister, we must wonder what he meant exactly by "intimate".
I didn't know about his twin sister; all I knew was he had a great ass.
After this steamy batch of thoughts, in which we learn that the Usher family had a direct line of descendents-i.e., incest fest!-the narrator kicks his long-suffering horse towards the House, but then abruptly stops to contemplate the tarn (lake) and the dilapidated, run-down, decaying House. Instead of going the common sense route of merely meeting his friend, claiming that he simply mustn't impose on his hospitality and that he has a room in the tavern three miles away, our narrator jumps immediately into blonde-bimbo role and throws away the knowledge of danger that his instincts are screaming at him, deciding that it is merely the cumulative effect of natural objects that are causing his heebie-jeebies.
Yeah, nothing's wrong with this place. Hell, I might even take a shower.
Finally, the narrator stops wasting our time with exposition and knocks on the door. The brass knocker with the demonic face leers in the half-shadowy light. Screams sound. Thunder rumbles. Lightning flashes.
Damn, hope they hurry up. Really want that shower.
Igor A servant comes and lets him in. He meets a valet of stealthy step and as they are going through the dark, cavernous House, they even meet a physician leaving.
Loyal Usher staff.
He is finally ushered (get it? Yeah, I know...) into the Master's studio, and for the first time in a supposedly long time, meets his "intimate" childhood friend. We get Roderick's description in a paragraph.
Eyes large, liquid and luminous...
Nose of a delicate hebrew model...
Son of a bitch!!!!
Roderick goes through a slightly schizophrenic/demonic phase where he speaks his rambling thoughts, his voice cracks and deepens like a boy going through puberty, and his moods change with the natural rapidity of PMS. Finally, we learn the reason why the narrator (and thus, we readers) are stuck in this hellhole of a House: Roderick is suffering from a mental sickness, one that he claims has been passed through his family-yeah, well that's what you get with incest. He soon modifies that thought, saying that most of his troubles can all be traced to one source: the female in his life, his twin, Madeline.
We see Madeline only thrice in this story, and as soon as Roderick speaks her name, we see her glide through the room and out the door like a ghostly woman. Ghostly, because this is a Poe story. And although Roderick cries at the thought that his twin might die, the narrator and Roderick end up ignoring her for several days, until they are roused out of their love-making by the inopportune "death" of Madeline. Notice that I have used quotations around "death". Yeah. I'll get to that.
Try ignoring this.
Because Roderick is "paranoid" of doctors, like "most" men on this planet, and is afraid that they will try "and" autopsy on "his beloved" sister to "find" out the cause of her disease, "he" "gets" "the" "narrator" "to" "help" "him" "hide" "her" "body" "in" the "dungeon conveniently located under the narrator's room".
Narrator: "Dude, are you sure she's dead? I'm pretty sure I saw her breathing."
Roderick: "Nah man, she's dead. Trust me. Now let's go back up to the studio so you can read me poetry while I lounge shirtless on the chaise."
Unfortunately for the narrator's and Roderick's plans of weeks of sweet, sexy man-love, Roderick slowly mentally disintegrates soon after his twin's "death", and the narrator just isn't going to hit that. We, the reader, look at how many more pages there are left. Sweet. Only three more.
Finally, we reach the climax of the story. Roderick comes to the narrator's room in the middle of a dark, stormy night and finds the narrator pacing, aching for the touch of his lover (not really). In reality, the narrator is suddenly realizing he is alone in a dark, decaying old house, miles away from civilization, with some chick's decaying body floors beneath him, and her crazy brother nearby. Roderick, muttering like the charming madman he is, goes to the windows and opens them, letting in the storm, because it just isn't enough to be slowly going insane; you need pneumonia, too. The narrator sits Roderick down and begins to read him a story. Strangely, when the narrator reads about the sound of a knight knocking down a hermit's door, he hears the sound of something knocking downstairs. He reads about the scream of a dragon and hears a screech downstairs. He reads about a magical bronze shield bowing before his new conqueror (yeah, I know, wtf kind of story is this?) and hears a clanging downstairs. Did the narrator suddenly find himself in a "Choose Your Own Adventure" book?
Wow, wonder how this will turn out!
Finally, Roderick takes the plunge into the frothy sea of insanity and stands up, screaming, "Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door!" (Poe, page number). While the narrator scratches his head over his being called a madman, the door busts open like Chuck Norris flicked it with his little finger and there stands...Madeline!
The narrator pushes Roderick towards the madwoman, who is hungry for revenge and blood, and watches as she pounces upon her twin brother, who is now dead from fright, like all those people from the Ring. She dies as they fall to the floor. The narrator is ghost, having suddenly gained the speed of ten African sprinters. He only turns for that one required moment, to look back on the House of Usher which is crumbling and falling, destroyed by the battle of the titanic twins, into the tarn.
Lesson: incest will make you crazy and property values will plummet.
Smorgasbord of Delicious Factual Tidbits
- This story is considered an example of "totality", which means that every single fucking word is important. Every. Fucking. Word.
- Some people claim that when Poe was describing the House of Usher Poe was describing himself. Moss on cheeks? Athlete's face?
- Many people claim that when Poe was describing Roderick, he was describing himself. I never knew that Poe looked like Robert Pattinson.
- The actual House of Usher symbolizes the twins, which are two parts of one whole. So the supposed incest between Roderick and Madeline (c'mon, they were adults, and they never went out, who else were they going to bone?) was actually the most narcistic form of self-love possible. Unless you slept with your clone (see Cracked Article: So You're Locked In a Room With Your Clone: Fight or F#@k).
- The crack in the House might symbolize dissociative personality disorder.
- Classic example of gothic literature
- They made a film about this story. Thirteen times.
Featuring the talents of some wide-eyed blonde chick, some distracted black-haired guy, the housekeeper (???) and the sinister House. Only 24.99 on Amazon!
Wrap It Up!
Make sure to come back for new entries of my original series: From Classic to Cracked. Who knows what classic I'll pick up next?
Ah, Looney Tunes! Classic!