The Fall of the House of Usher is one of the best known works of Edgar Allan Poe and every now and then I have to go back to the Bostonian master of terror. In this article I recover part of another of those college work that in its day I had to work. This time it is an excerpt from a much longer essay on symbology and psychoanalysis of the work. One more curiosity and tiny contribution to the figure of the great Poe.
Table of Contents
In first person, the narrator recounts his visit to a childhood friend, Roderick usher, owner of a mansion at least strange. This man is ill and tells you to come and cheer him up. He lives with his sister Lady madeline, which is also very sick and so he feels very sad.
The narrator passes a season with his friend dedicating himself to talking, reading and listening to music. But one day Lady Madeline passes away, Or, at least, it seems. They will leave her in a coffin, in a room in the lower part of the house.
From there Roderick Usher will gradually lose his head and getting sicker and sicker until one stormy night he starts to get very upset when he thinks he hears noises all over the house. To reassure him, the narrator begins to read a book until he also hears those noises, like wailing and crying. Roderick Usher, already insane, realizes that they have buried her alive And that's when Lady Madeline it appears to them, a fact that precipitates death of his brother. Before that and the impending house collapse the narrator flees leaving behind the ruins sinking into the lake of the surrounding area.
The House of Usher
It is necessary to highlight the fundamental role of the house, since its influence on the characters and vice versa is decisive. Also the negative force that underlies that influence and that leads to the death of the two protagonists and the destruction of the building. That force is quickly discovered at the beginning of the story when the narrator describes his arrival and the feeling of sorrow and sadness that produces the vision of the great house.
Of course, at this first impression, death is foretold because when you are looking at the house and its surroundings, such as the lake and the dry trees, you can only take it as something that is at the end of its resistance to time, just like that of its inhabitants, the last two Usher. It is Lady Madeline, buried alive before her time, who causes the destruction of the house, before her time too, and the death of her brother, to sink all of it into the lake, just as the story ends.
However, what really configures these elements, as many characters as situations and environments, is a prolongation of the state of mind, of Poe's mind. This can be seen in the symbology of some of them, for example, the casa. House that due to its housing character identifies with the human body and thought.
In this way, the facade would mean the Tsar, the mask under which is the personality of man. The different floors could be symbols of the verticality and space. He highest ceiling and floor would correspond to the head and thought, that is, to the conscious and directing functions. On the contrary, the basement or cellar would show el unconscious and instincts. The ladder would be the means of union of the various psychic planes and its fundamental meaning would depend on whether it is viewed in an ascending or descending direction.
What is clear is that there is an equivalence between the house and the human body, especially in the openings. A proof of this are the words of the narrator when he stands in front of the Usher mansion, describing the dark windows that he sees' as black eyes in an empty face».
The same happens with the lake or the ruins. The lake can express the hidden and the mysterious. Furthermore, the surface of its waters can symbolize a mirror, an image of reality, a reality that sinks into those same waters and leaves only ruins. They can also mean those feelings or lived experiences that no longer have any vital ties but that continue to exist despite having no use or function in terms of living or thinking.
The Usher brothers
In relation to the characters and the position that the writer takes as a narrator, this does not intervene decisively in the story or in the destiny of the protagonists. It seems that Poe has shed some of his personal complexity embodying it or, rather reflecting it, in Roderick and Madeline, especially in the former.
It has literally been unfolded and another part has been left out, as an observer. Roderick's disease and dementia are Poe's that, thanks to him or through his eyes, they can go outside, free themselves and stop being a burden for the author.
Lady Madeline would embody the weakness of her spirit. It would also be the figure of his mother that appears and disappears through the corridors of the house, from Poe's mind, in an attempt to return to life without success. All the changes of rhythm of the story would fall on Lady Madeline or the search for the lost mother.
A psychoanalyst Poe
But there is also a escape attempt, of salvation from destruction and death as the narrator demonstrates at the end. And it is that that logical, reasoning and centered part that he observed from the outside seems to refuse that destiny to which he is heading in reality. This proves the narrow line that separated sanity from insanity in Poe's life and that in the end was erased with his addiction to alcohol.
It can also be said that Poe was one of the first who tried to make a methodological investigation of the unconscious mind. This house of the Usher, with its dark rooms, its intricate landscapes or that crack in the center of its facade, has been considered a pre-Freudian model of that unconscious mind.
When in present times the psychoanalytic method to Poe's work, they wanted to find a decrease in the literary quality of his stories. But at the same time, critics who continue to study his work also continue to consider him a pioneer in aesthetics, a researcher of the human mind and a literary technician.
In any case what is evident is that their stories remain in memory as example of the search for mystery and the expectation of terror carried out by human beings.
Part of the bibliography used then:
- E. Cirlot, Symbols Dictionary, Labor, Barcelona, 1988.
- The Norton Anthology of American Literature, New York, 1989.
- The Unknow Poe, an anthology of fugitive writings by EA Poe, City Lights Books, San Francisco, 1980.