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Poe's Fall of the House of Usher

Poe's Fall of the House of Usher is a brilliant work that contains many aspects of Romantic Era literature. Paper Masters gives you topic suggestions on Edgar Allen Poe's Fall of the House of Usher. Get help today for your research paper on any of Poe's work.

Here are some topic suggestions for a research paper on Poe's Fall of the House of Usher:

You may want to write a research paper in the genre of mystery and horror which examines, details, and analyzes the following:

  1. In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Madeline Usher suffers from catalepsy, an affliction characterized by muscular rigidity and reduced sensitivity to pain.
  2. The physical effects of this illness allow Madeline’s brother Roderick, with whom she has had an incestuous relationship, to bury her alive.Poe's Fall of the House of Usher
  3. The implications of this malady may be drawn in such a way that they parallel the infirmities inflicted upon women by the society of Madeline’s time (the illness may in all likelihood be a response to the problems of being a women, without rights, liberty, or freedom to express oneself).
  4. Explore the similitude of the two, the implications of Madeline’s burial, and the significance of Poe’s meticulous portrayal of Madeline and the incestuous relationship which leads to the symbolic and literal fall of the House of Usher. Also, when analyzing the oppression of women of “Madeline’s time,” be sure to examine the lives of the women in the period when Poe lived and wrote and the way in which their plight affected him, if at all. Make sure to draw connections between the women of his life and lifetime and his work, yet, there should not be more than a page and half total of biographical information about Poe himself.
  5. For, although Poe was not especially sympathetic to the women's plight and he cannot be portrayed as a feminist per se, he did have very close relationships with various women. Mr. Allan and his wife/cousin Virginia may have suffered from a malady very similar to catalepsy (figuratively and/or symbolically). Explore such possibilities.
  6. Finally, as the definition of catalepsy includes a reference to cocaine addiction, there may be an interesting connection to Poe himself (as he was an Opium addict) which may be explored: Roderick as one half of him and Madeline as the other. Demonstrate the truth of this theory in connection with the aforementioned ideas. If possible, please take the primary text of “The Fall of the House of Usher”.

The Fall of the House of Usher recounts the story of Roderick and Madeline Usher. Brother and sister both suffer from mental illness brought on by intermarriage in the family. As the story opens, Madeline is deteriorating rapidly which depresses Roderick beyond his normal apathetic existence produced by his mere living in the family home.  He is convinced that the Usher mansion directs his behavior and his eventual destiny. Edgar Allen Poe uses the story of the Usher family to symbolize the fall of the romantic era in society.

The romantic era is symbolized in the detail of the house. Poe begins his description, “of excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great…No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts and the crumbling condition of the individual stones… a barely perceptible fissure, which extended from the roof to the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn”. With the house falling apart, Poe is stating that the romantic era that encompasses society is also falling apart. This imaginary landscape mirrors human grief and the house weeps for the loss of innocence and romance.

The story begins when, out of desperation, Roderick Usher writes to his childhood friend to visit, in hopes that his ebullience will relieve Roderick of his malady.  When the friend reads the earnest letter written by Roderick, he journeys to his old friend’s house.  Upon arriving at the Usher mansion, he senses great despair and gloom hanging over the house.  Roderick’s countenance was almost cadaverous.  The friend was shocked that in so little time Roderick Usher could be transformed into such a state.

During the next several days, the two men busied themselves with painting, reading and making music.  Then one evening Roderick announces that Madeline is dead and that his intention is to hold the corpse for two weeks before placing it in it’s final interment.  At Roderick’s request, the friend helps him with all the arrangements and the two carry the body to it’s temporary resting place.  It was at this point that the friend is aware that Roderick and Madeline are twins and there is an incestuous nature between them.

During the next several days Roderick became increasingly agitated and even more mentally diseased. A great storm raged outside one evening and both Roderick and his friend were unable to sleep.  Roderick ventured to his friend’s chamber and tried to settle down with his friend reading “Mad Trist” by Sir Launcelot.  Suddenly a loud noise is heard coming from some remote part of the mansion.  The friend leaped to his feet while Roderick turned his chair to face the door of the chamber.  Suddenly Roderick let out an almost inaudible gibberish.  Leaning closer, the friend hears him say he buried Madeline alive.  A gust of wind blows open the door and in the doorway stands an enshrouded Madeline.  She reeled to and for then with a sickly moan fell upon her brother.  The final moaning in agony produced both brother and sister as corpses lying on the floor. According to Poe there is nothing more poetic than the death of a beautiful woman.

The friend fled the mansion in a frenzy as the storm rose even greater outside.  When he turned back to look at the house there was a loud explosion and it crumbled to the ground and was consumed by the tarn beside it.

In contrast to many of Poe's stories, “The Fall of the House of Usher” is not written in the first person, but by a narrator who acts like an observer and whom the reader never really learns about.  The narrator is actually the boyhood friend who comes to visit Roderick.  Twice near the end of the story, Roderick addresses the narrator as “Madman!”.  The narrator, however escapes to watch the demise of the tenants and the house that embodied all that was unnatural.

Roderick and Madeline Usher are the only remaining members of the Usher clan.  When Madeline supposedly dies, Poe implies the closeness of brother and sister as twins, “a striking similitude between brother and sister....” which is an important fact in revealing the unity of effect in this story.  The story mirrors other literary works just as the story itself is full of metaphors.  The twins mirror each other, the tarn mirrors the house, and the music and art of Roderick, mirrors the corruption in Roderick’s mind caused by the incest, “It was, perhaps the narrow limits to which he thus confined himself upon the guitar, which gave birth, in great measure, to the fantastic character of his performances”.  The story is mirrored most in the lyrics of Roderick’s songs. 

Poe also uses Roderick’s art as a metaphor to what is actually taking place in the story and in society with the loss of romanticism.  “The Fall of the House of Usher”, while appearing to be a simple tale, is encoded with the message that for art to have any relevance in society it must be understandable.  Poe writes this story as a chain of mirrors to enforce his argument that everything is relevant to another.  Roderick’s incestuous relationship keeps him from producing art that can be enjoyed.  Madeline reflects her brother because he can only view himself through the incest, which is the foundation of his malady, “a constitutional and a family evil, and one for which he despaired to find a remedy”.  It is this malady that produces his flawed art which in turn echoes the story of the “House of Usher” itself. This loss of art is another symbol for what Poe feels is the dying of the great attributes of the romantic era and romanticism in the society in which he lived.

Edgar Allan Poe was unique in the literary community at that time.  Horror, sadism, torture and executions all appear in his tales.  Interesting to note is the affinity with two painters of the same period that were dealing with identical demons in their art.  Poe connected with the great painter Francisco Goya and was greatly influenced by English painter John Martin (Robertson, Internet). Both mourned the loss of romanticism in their art and symbolized it by creating haunting works in rebellion.

The major themes of Poe’s works centered on power versus powerless, the relation of body and soul, memory and mourning for the dead, and confrontations with mysterious presences. Although susceptible to bouts of volatile mood swings and lunatic behavior, Poe also possessed a proclivity towards the romantic. He borrowed from the romantics and from time to time, adopted writings from the prominent Scottish monthly, Blackwood’s Magazine, and was influenced by Hoffman, Coleridge, D’Israeli, and Tieck.  He also used pertinent material from Alfred Tennyson, Shelley Keats, Thomas Moore, and several others.  He discovered forms of expression in these writers that could be transformed very well into his own creation.

Edgar Allan Poe’s influence on the American and European literary community has been extraordinarily large.  In his short life he wrote with great imagination.  His poems and literary themes influenced the French Symbolists and English Aestetes.  Dostoyevsky was inspired by his split personality and with his guilt-ridden anxiety.  The author, James Joyce found his preoccupation with death very influential for his own writings (Walker, 26).  His use of realistic science fiction foreshadowed great twentieth century science fiction writers.  Poe was remarkably ahead of his time with such innovative writing. 

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