The Dark Romantics And Gothics Of “The Fall Of The House Of Usher”

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Many different literary genres and subgenres have formed over many years in many different countries. Some of these genres have had great impact like Poetry, Drama, Prose, Nonfiction, and Mediafiction. The Fall of the House of Usher was a literary work written by Edgar Allan Poe that falls under to specific genres that are often conflated together, dark romanticism which is a subgenre of romanticism and gothic literature which is a similar genre to dark romanticism. Often times when these two things are put together it causes a lot of confusion as to where each should be placed in the literary genre. The Fall of the House of Usher is a unique story with interesting literary elements that really get the reader to think about what it truly is. The Fall of the House of Usher is unique because it can relate to dark romanticism, transcendentalism, gothic literature, romanticism and, uses themes of love, death and madness to help.

The Fall of the House of Usher literary works mirrors dark romanticism and transcendentalism in some of its writings. Dark romanticism is a literary subgenre that stemmed from romanticism during the “transcendental philosophical movement” that was very popular during the nineteenth century. “Transcendentalist ideas such as individualism, connection with Nature, and the Search for truth” (Brown). Even though some of the ideas of dark romanticism came from transcendentalism, it did not go along many of the ideas that it had during the time. Dark romanticism was nowhere near as optimistic as transcendentalism often being depicted as darker. This is best described in the Fall of the House of Usher when the narrator says “I know not how it was—but, 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” (Poe). Both dark romanticism and transcendentalism had a lot to do with the spiritual essence of the human being, dark romanticism has a much more sinister view on the spirit than transcendentalism, which sees things as much closer to god and much more natural.

There were many literary writers that had disagreed with the transcendentalist views one of them being Edgar Allan Poe. Poe disliked transcendentalist so much that he had referred to them as ‘Frogpondians’. He viewed them as being way to egoistical and optimistic and sought to redefine such views with some of his poetry and prose. The Fall of the House of Usher helped reintroduce some of the darker aspects of Puritan beliefs like original sin and the also brought up how every human being is capable of doing evil deeds. Edgar Allan Poe through the House of Usher and his other writings had believed that the truest form of reality comes from the spirit that having intuition is better than simply relying on logic and reason, and events taking place with humans are symbols and signs of the spiritual truths. Ironically, this is something that transcendentalist also have in common with dark romanticism. Where the differences arise with transcendentalism is that dark romanticism believes that human are often prone to commit sins and cause their own self-destruction. For example, in the Fall of the house of Usher there are many obvious signs that Roderick had an incestuous relationship with his sister that many people back then and today would consider to be a major sin.

Dark romanticism depicts the world as dark, gritty, dying, and very suspicious, and when it’s time to show man the truth it is often shown to be pure evil and have some sorts of representation of hell. This is shown in the beginning of the Fall of the House of Usher when the narrator describes his friend’s house as infected, filled with evil, with dying trees and dirty pounds that surround the property. Dark romanticism often times likes to show individuals failing to change for the better and being consumed by the darkness around them. Dark romanticism like the Fall of the House of Usher touched on many different themes that helped tell its story like the divine and the supernatural, tragedy, and horror. One of the reason this works so well in the Fall of the House of Usher is because the human mind is on many occasions attracted to such things as tragedy, pain, and fear (Wasserman). According to Wasserman in the Fall of the House of Usher, “The absolute refusal to enter into relations with the Other is death, the fear of which haunts Roderick and prompts him to call the narrator in a last effort to avoid his fate”(Wasserman). This is one of the elements that dark romanticism emphasizes the most as a lot of its writings deal with people who naturally gravitate towards fear and self-destruction like Roderick. Practically all of Poe’s work is considered a part of the dark romantic genre in which he very frequently explored the conscious and subconscious of the human mind. Poe’s focus on the deep state of the human mind led to some of his other famous literary works like “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” (Poetry Foundation).

Like in the Fall of the House of Usher and his other works he is telling the story from a first person point of view which allows Poe through his own voice get into the “character’s psyche”. According to Poetry Foundation “This technique foreshadows the psychological explorations of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and the school of psychological realism” (Poetry Foundation). Dark romanticism often times gets confused with another genre called gothic literature and while there are many similar aspects that get them to relate it is taken when step further in the gothic literature.

The Fall of the House of Usher has strong literary elements that make it align with the more gothic style writing that once came from romanticism. Gothic literature is a certain writing style that is mainly defined by its use of death, fear, horror, gloom and while using more romantic features like very high and strong emotional connections, individualism, and suspense (The Gothic Experience). Gothic literature got its start in romanticism which is a literary are movement that focus on subjectivity and individuality. The Fall of the House of Usher definitely falls under the gothic literature aspect with its use haunted houses, weird illnesses, split personality and its depressing landscape. Such elements make it very identifiable as something of gothic literature. Part of what makes this story so unique is that one cannot be sure where exactly this is taking place. Whether that be in Roderick’s head or the narrator’s head is not certain. Which plays into the human mind similar to what dark romanticism had done with some parts of the House of Usher.

In the Fall of the House of Usher Poe uses some of the very basic elements of a gothic literature like very dark gloomy weather and a desolate landscape. Much like how it is described by Gothic Experience which stated, “The Gothic creates feelings of gloom, mystery, and suspense and tends to the dramatic and the sensational, like incest, diabolism, and nameless terrors” (Gothic Experience). Much like dark romanticism gothic literature according to Morgan Howard, “in general their works tend to be pessimistic, and deal particularly with death. Morality, the question of evil, and the human psyche all play a role in the canon of all three men- issues that both the Romantics and the Gothics explore”(Howard).

What makes Poe’s Usher story really stand out as a gothic literature is his use of imagery to help push the story forward. When the narrator in the Fall of the House of Usher calls the day dark, dull, and gloomy he is giving the readers the impression that it is dark and gloomy outside with nothing really going and the sun which isn’t shinning. When Poe describes the weather, he discusses how dense and how low the clouds were to give further description on the clouds being low to the ground and the sun not shinning. Poe is considered the master of gothic writing with many of works detailing characteristics like attractive female characters that end up dead or dying. In the Fall of the House of Usher the sister Roderick, Madeline who had supposedly died but came back from the dead after being buried alive and killed her brother Roderick. Another characteristic of gothic literature that Poe tends to have a lot of in his writing especially in the Fall of the House of Usher is whether or not the narrator is sane. In the beginning of the story, the narrator remains very aware of his surroundings and describes the house that he is visiting.

As the story progresses that seems to spiral further and further down into this hole of insanity. This is called further into question when the narrator says “What was it–I paused to think–what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all-insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that. . . there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth”(Fall of the House of Usher). This leads some to believe that the narrator was not in his right mind completely as the House of Usher story continues. Weird places and settings is another characteristic of gothic literature that Poe Uses. The place the narrator is going to visit his friend Roderick he describes as depressing, dark, gloomy and overall just an unhappy place to be. Poe also talked about in his gothic literature being buried, revenge, and murder all of which happened to Madeline during the story in which she was able buried alive, freed herself and got revenge on her brother Roderick by murdering him. Poe was a strong believer that only being in such extreme situations could the type of person you truly are actually be revealed to the world. Poe’s obsession with the mental state of individuals and the types of influences it has on his writings has caused some critics to believe that Madeline is not real and is a figment of the narrator’s and Roderick’s imagination which is purposely done to blur the lines between what is fake and what is actually going on.

Another strong gothic element that the Fall of the House of Usher uses is the doppelganger which is meant to show the doubling literary elements or inanimate objects. When the narrator first sees the mansion, it is as a reflection in a little pool, which is next to the house. This little pool is meant to be a double of the house but it can also be shown to portray the relationship between Madeline and Roderick. This describes the tarn in the story; it is the reflection of the tarn. This is the main essence of gothic literature which according to Morgan Howard “It presents “the darker side of awareness… guilt, fear and madness… the uncomfortable sense of being in a fantasy world which is about to reveal secrets of the human personality”” (Howard).

The Fall of the House of Usher touches on different themes throughout the story one important one being love and death. In another one of Poe’s famous poems the Raven, love and death are connected with a young woman who ends ups dying young. Poe was once very surprised by the sudden death of his wife so that became a reoccurring motif in his stories. It is implied that the love between Roderick and his sister Madeline is not a good or healthy relationship and that it will fall apart much like the house itself in the Fall of the House of Usher.

Due to Roderick and Madeline being twins it is shown just how similar these two are with each other almost as if they are the same person just in two different bodies. Even though Roderick is quite shaken by Madeline eventual demise, he for some reason tries to speed of the process. This could be perhaps Roderick understanding that his death simply cannot be avoided. Poe makes death feel much more frightening since he later talks about the destiny of everyone and everything in the story. Just like how gothic literature depicts things to be depressing and gloomy it is no different from one the narrator came upon the house the first time which he says “depression of soul” due to the intense and uneasy feeling he is getting by gazing up the house.

Fear is a major component in Gothicism as it is one of the biggest ways that the story is told and the Fall of the House of Usher does that perfectly. It shows the reader that death is something that we all fear when the end of our life is approaching and nothing including love can prevent such a fate. Even though the narrator has a strong devotion to Roderick and is his friend, it is not enough to stop the doom that is coming for him and the Ushers. This is a call back to the many themes of the typical gothic literature that Poe is used to writing in most of his stories. Dealing with things like fear, love, tragedy and death all play a role in the Fall of the House of Usher.

Another theme that is used in the Fall of the House of Usher is the fact that madness is a major factor in the story of the Ushers. Many of Poe’s stories deal with the mental struggle-taking place inside someone and how that is affecting the others. In the Fall of the house of Usher the narrator states “In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with an incoherence—an inconsistency; and I soon found this to arise from a series of feeble and futile struggles to overcome an habitual trepidancy—an excessive nervous agitation”( The Fall of the House of Usher). The narrator is able to notice that something is not right with Roderick, which is especially important, as the narrator has already admitted to not knowing Roderick all that well to begin with. He makes constant comparisons to Roderick’s behavior to that of being drunk and being on drugs.

The narrator is not able to get a direct answer out of Roderick due to how broken and incomplete his sentences are and is trying to piece them together to actually figure out what is going on. It can be implied that the instability that is driving Roderick further and further into madness is not just simply coming for fear but trying to conquer these fears and constantly failing to do so. This is more of a throwback to dark romanticism where a constant theme of that is a character that is trying to become better and make improvements but ultimately failing to succeed in the end. The narrator even describes Roderick as “alternately vivacious and sullen” alluding to the fact that he may be bipolar. The Fall of the House of Usher continues to detail Roderick’s and Madeline’s descent into madness with the strange part being that he is aware of what is going on around him and the control he is losing over himself.

As the story continues, the reader is able to tell before the narrator can put it together that Roderick has gone off the deep end when he decides that he needs to bury his sister who is still alive in the basement. When the narrator finally catches on and believes that Roderick committing such a horrible and random act is ridiculous but the narrator has been inside the mansion for so long that he has become victim to the hysteria starting to take place in the Usher home. Towards the end of the story the narrator has come to conclusion that Roderick is mad stating “there was a species of mad hilarity in his eyes—an evidently restrained hysteria in his whole demeanor” (The Fall of The House of Usher). This is further proven in the narrator eyes when Roderick is telling him that his sister has come back from the grave and his calling the narrator mad for not seeing it saying “’Do I not distinguish that heavy and horrible beating of her heart? Madman!’—here he sprang furiously to his feet, and shrieked out his syllables, as if in the effort he were giving up his soul—’Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door!’” (The Fall of the House of Usher). This makes the reader think about what is going on and look for signs to see if the narrator is actually the one who is crazy instead.


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