Peripheral Narration and Dark Mystery; Using the Narrator to Deepen the Tale in The Fall of the House of Usher

Edgar Allan Poe was a great America gothic style writer of the eighteen hundreds. There is hardly a mention of early American literature that does not commend his work. Of his literature, The Fall of the House of Usher gives a certain air of chilling tones and intense narration. Walter Evans breaks down this popular story and shares Poe’s motivation and theory behind the dark tale. In this he states major themes and parts of the story and compares the fundamental principles to the elements of Poe’s theory and statements. He compares the work of Poe to the work of Hawthorne and how the two share similarities in their writing but are also very unique. He gives good insight on the writings of Poe and how he is able to create dark and detailed imagery within the pages and bring it to life. He skims over some events that could be considered more major to make more room for the caring detail he places in the text describing the surroundings.

Throughout the pages of The Fall of the House of Usher Poe almost gets lost in his descriptive writing. The events that occur take a backseat while the writing goes into extreme detail over a description of a room or a location. Evans states that, “the incidents Poe does employ seem practically lost in the descriptive passages. For instance, he barely mentions one event which, in a story based on incident and arrangement, should logically deserve a great deal more emphasis: the supposed death of Madeline prior to her interment. The whole episode receives only thirteen words (“one evening having informed me abruptly that the lady Madeline was no more,” 287), far, far fewer even than the narrator’s description of Roderick’s room, of the underground vault, or of the house and its reflection in the tarn.”(139). In The Fall of the House of Usher that the incidents are not as descriptive as the could be and are skimmed over throughout the tale. It is almost as if Poe is trying to de-emphasize the events, though they could have a larger place and fare just as well.

Experts have described Poe’s strong points in writing as the atmosphere or the mood, because it leaves a lasting impression. He is known for his strong imagery and also has a certain pattern in the writing. In the text there is such description and imagery that it almost overtakes the actions. The overall flow and lyrical style to the story is irrelevant to the plot, but strongly adds to Poe’s style. “Poe demonstrably composed the body of the story of elements central to the lyric method but largely irrelevant to plotted narrative progression; he clearly subordinated combined incidents to patterned images.” (140). Logically, events such as a death of a character of emphasis would require some detailed development and some dedicated time to the narrative, however, they are portrayed briefly, in a swift sentence.

From the first sentence Poe heightens the readers sensitivity to the story by captivating the audience with the chilling and suspenseful passages. He opens with a quote, which presents a “vivid image of the lyric protagonist” (143) and has just the right suspenseful anticipation for the right type of readers. He then brings in the symbolic metaphor of the house of Usher by using grotesque detail. “A presentation of the house and the surrounding landscape in terms which may have interpreted as a portrait of Usher himself, or even of Poe, whose own gave, at least in popular imagination, is dominated by “bleak” cheeks, huge eyes, a “rank” and slightly bushy mustache, elaborately wrought image is then duplicated and inverted…quite meaningful in terms of the story’s form and content” (143). Poe’s principles in the story are different from what he later states in his theory. He focuses so much on the details of obscure events and surroundings throughout the text that the reader can lose sight of what the message should be. In The Fall of the House of Usher the narrator is an interesting piece to dissect. The nameless, limited, and to the point narrator brings readers deeper in the story of the house itself rather than focusing on the individual telling the story. He is but a person attempting to convey a story with as much accuracy as possible and to pinpoint all attention towards the story’s happenings and descriptions rather than his thoughts, feelings, and well-being. He is vague about himself; he remains nameless. He constantly reiterates that the situation and the events are too difficult to place into words, and that the house itself is just strange.

The beginning reveals nothing about the narrator. It merely states that he or she was going on a journey and managed to stumble upon the melancholy house of Usher. It opens with a dreary painted picture of a dark and dull day when a nameless person on a horse encounters this house. The painted scene does not focus on the narrator or his travels much at all, they’re only stated matter-of-factly. The imagery comes from the description of the house and of the type of day it was. It sets the tone for the entire short story. A dark spell is cast over the reader by the narrator’s apprehension and feelings for the house, “with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible” (702). Some of the most common description words used by the narrator are gloom, dark, bleak, and dull. These are used from the beginning until the very end and keep the story along the same depressing and grim vibe.

The narrator and Poe himself were not so focused on the events that took place within the story. Many events that happened were glimpsed over and barely mentioned, even if they held the possibility of importance. Instead, a lot of time and energy were spent into the description of the house itself, of the rooms, and of the general vibe and feelings received. Events could have passed by in an instant rather than being elaborated upon as the narrator was chosen to speak of the overall gloom. He mentions many times that the events that had occurred were so dark that his words could not describe them. He hides from the grotesque detail of the happenings and instead focuses on the darkness of the rooms and the cold feeling of gloom. He shivers to re-state some of the events and refuses to share, pawning it off as something to horrible to reveal, “…an influence whose supposititious force was conveyed in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated (705).

I should fail in any attempt to convey an idea of the exact character of the studies, or of the occupations, in which he involved me (706).

I would in vain endeavour to educe more than a small portion which should lie within the compass of merely written words (706).

I lack words to express the full extent, or the earnest abandon of his persuasion (709).”

Poe stating that the story is even more horrifying than what the narrator shares makes it all the more compelling for the reader. There is darkness, bleakness, and an eerie feeling with the story as is, but bringing in the element that there is more pushes it even farther. The point the narrator makes is that even though he gives insight to the chilling detail there is much that he won’t even divulge because it is too much for him to bear and too much for the reader to comprehend. Perhaps this is why certain events that could have a larger emphasis are skimmed over. The events are mentioned so that the reader can have the idea of what had occurred, but detail is spared. Though the story may seem to be missing that element, it was done in mercy from the narrator to the reader who may not have wanted to share what he has seen and forced others to live with the knowledge. The narrator himself may be afraid of what he has witnessed and by being vague he can attempt to forget his memories. If what he says in the story is the watered down version, the entire truth would be too much to handle for some.

Through the narrator Poe creates a feeling of claustrophobia and bestows a feeling of confusion. The narrator is trapped in the house in an environment that nourishes claustrophobia. The characters inside the house are controlled by it. They cannot move around freely, they may not leave. The confusion sets in with Poe sharing the word house with two separate meanings. The one definition is the house itself. The physical building in which the Usher family lived is called the house of Usher. The second meaning is the genetic line of the Usher family. They inhabitants of the house and their entire family line of generations is referred to as the house of Usher. The reader needs to determine which meaning the narrator is speaking of, or if in fact it is referring to both. The confusion does not take on a large role in the story as the main emphasis is the darkness.

The narration in The Fall of the House of Usher is crucial to the story. Though the narrator is vague and his identity mostly remains unknown, he brings a lot to the story itself. The way he depicts the scenes and how he chooses to share the events is the entire story, the entire groundwork is based upon his chosen words. It is very detailed in describing the setting and the surroundings and not as descriptive over the events that take place. Murders are shared in a sentence, while a description of a room may take up a paragraph. Part of the reason the events may not be as detailed is simply because it may be too dark for the reader to handle. The narrator states several times that it is too much for him to write down and to share. He assures the reader that the truth is much worse than what he dares to write, but what he states is the truth. Poe also brings in the feeling of claustrophobia and confusion through the narration. The reader feels trapped inside the house with the narrator while he cannot leave until it crumbles down to nothing. The confusion sets in with the multiple definitions of the house of Usher. It is used to both describe the physical building itself and also the family bloodline. The narrator gives the entire story and is the reason the story is able to reach the lengths it strives for. His descriptive narrative tells the reader all he needs to know and more to sense what he is feeling inside the house of Usher. Works Cited

Edgar Allan Poe “Fall of the House of Usher” Norton Anthology of American Literature. By Baym, Nina, and Mary Loeffelholz. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2007. 702-14. Print.

Evans, Walter. “The Fall of the House of Usher and Poe’s Theory of the Tale.” Studies in Short Fiction 2.2 (n.d.): 137-44. EBSCOhost. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

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