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Topic of Incest in “The Fall of the House of Usher”

Categories Edgar Allan Poe, House, Literature

Essay, Pages 7 (1586 words)

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Essay, Pages 7 (1586 words)

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is a short story written by Edgar Alan Poe and first published in 1839. The genre of the can be described both as mystics and as psychological thriller, or even as a horror story, although it’s plot appears to be pretty simple at the first sight. “The Fall” touches several themes, which are usual for Poe’s writing, including fear of loneliness, fear of death, flaws and human weaknesses. On the other hand this is Poe’s perhaps most profound investigation of the topic of incest and tabooed vicious love to the closest relatives.

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This paper aims to investigate the theme of incest in the “Fall of the House of Usher” and trace Poe’s idea on the subject and it’s consequences. The story opens when an anonymous protagonist receives a letter from his close friend named Roderick Usher in which he asks to come and support him in his illness. The narrator arrives to a distant part of the country to find his Roderick lost, lonely and almost insane.

The surrounding of Usher and his old family house also bear a spirit of absurd.

As Poe wrote: “I looked upon the scene before me – upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain – upon the bleak walls – upon the vacant eye-like windows – upon a few rank sedges – and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees – with an utter depression of soul”. This literary technique is traditional for English Gothic literature of the time: the scene itself is mystical and acts almost as a character of the story.

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Usher even calls the house “a member of the family” underlining it’s role in the events that follow.

Roderick describes his disease as “acute bodily illness – of a mental disorder which oppressed him”. Poe wrote his story before invention of modern psychiatry, however, one can easily notice, that Roderick suffers from chronic depression caused by oppressing emotions of fear and guilt. As the story develops a reader comes to know the reasons of Roderick’s sickly state. Upon arrival to Usher’s house the protagonist learns, that Roderick has a twin-sister, also suffering from even worse form of illness. She appears only once as a ghost-like figure in the corridor and leaves without saying a word.

It seems that Roderick really loved his sister as she was “his sole companion for long years – his last and only relative on earth. “Her decease,” he said, with a bitterness which I can never forget, “would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last of the ancient race of the Ushers. ” Roderick and the narrator spent time together talking and discussing Roderick’s abstract paintings, until one day Madeline, the sister of Roderick, dies and they carry her corpse vault deep beneath the house where she is to be entombed.

Roderick asks the protagonist to leave the body unburied for a while before the final interment. So they place a body to the coffin and lock it behind a heavy iron door. Almost immediately the state of Usher changes, he becomes pale and horrified, and gradually his fear transfers to the narrator. The story ends when on a particularly stormy night Roderick comes to the narrator to tell that Madeline of Usher has been buried alive. Sounds of steps are heard, Roderick jumps to open the door and find his sister standing behind it. She fells into hands of her brother and dies.

The narrator flees in horror, and the House of Ushers breaks into parts behind his back. Throughout the story it becomes obvious, that love of Roderick to his sister is quite strange to be called brotherly. He speaks of it with uncovered emotion, and this emotion is very passionate. When he finished speaking for the first time “he had buried his face in his hands, and I could only perceive that a far more than ordinary wanness had overspread the emaciated fingers through which trickled many passionate tears. ” The relations between brother and sister are so strange that their incestuous nature seems to be implied.

Even if we assume, that there were no direct ties between Roderick and Madeline, there is a passion between them and a desire to have such ties. Actually, there is very much unknown about the story. What is the relationship between Roderick and Madeline? Did Roderick willingly try to murder his sister? Was she really dead or not? Was it Madeline or her ghost, that appeared at the end of the story? What fatal forces drove the House of Ushers to it’s end? How much supernatural is the in the story? Was the fall of the House a punishment for previous sins?

Whether there was an incest between Roderick and Madeline, the whole family tree of Ushers is based on incest. Their ancestors encouraged marriages between their children to keep the blood of Ushers pure. This is explained already at the beginning of the story: “I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had put forth, at no period, any enduring branch; in other words, that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain”.

There is much evil gathered in the House of Ushers and the beginning of this evil are sinful relations between relatives. The attempt of Roderick’s ancestors to isolate their blood by incest results in actual isolation of the House from the rest of the world, and absolute loneliness of Ushers. Evil comes from sin and even as: “evil things, in robes of sorrow, Assailed the monarch’s high estate”. So incest, isolationism and evil are strongly tied together and sorrow is nothing more, but a result of Ushers own misdoings.

Thusly, there is in fact no difference whether Roderick had a relation with Madeline or not, although the narrator notices, that there are “sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them. ” They are to have such relation only because they are Ushers and incest is a part of their identity. Their poisoned blood itself is fatal. The last of Ushers have to respond for sins of their fathers by mental illnesses, despair and early mystical death. Madeline and Roderick are twins.

For this reason incestuous relations between them bear features of narcissism and self-love which is embodied in love to own copy. In the light of this the quick burial of Madeline looks like a symbolic suicide of Roderick. He knows that his sister can still be alive and at the end of the story he knows for sure that she is alive. His feelings and emotions about it are painfully enthusiastic: “Not hear it? – yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long-long-long – many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it – yet I dared not – oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am!

– I dared not – I dared not speak! We have put her living in the tomb! Said I not that my senses were acute? I now tell you that I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I heard them – many, many days ago –yet I dared not – I dared not speak! And now – to-night – Ethelred – ha! ha! ” The burial of Madeline is a desperate act – the last attempt o Frederick to bury evil deep-rooted in Ushers. But he is Usher himself, so his nature is also impregnated with evil, so to bury evil he has to bury himself.

He can not escape as his sister or her ghost comes after him in white cloth covered with blood – the very incestuous blood of Ushers. They remain dead and the House of Ushers falls before the eyes of the narrator, because the House itself is a member of Usher’s family, so it can not stand when he there remain no more Ushers in the world. One can name several obvious moralistic conclusions and several implied ones. Poe does not attempt to blame his characters for their sins, but he rather calmly demonstrates the results of those sins. Incest is the beginning of evil in Usher’s House.

As soon as brothers and sisters in the family begin to have sexual relationships with each other and teach their children to do so, the sorrowful fatum of Ushers becomes predetermined. They try to keep their blood pure inside the house, so they keep evil pure inside the house. Mental disorders and illnesses are only consequences of evil. The final sort of “keeping inside” for Ushers is keeping inside coffin. Another thing is less obvious: the narrator is in fact an accessory of Roderick. In this respect he symbolizes the attitude of society to the evil, which seems to be “kept inside”.

He first tries not to notice the strange relations between brother and sister, but then he helps to bury Madeline, who still shows vital sparks. The narrator helps and tries to cheer Roderick, who asks for help and appears to be a victim, but he refuses to notice that Roderick is already overfilled with evil, so he helps evil. Happily the narrator escapes death under the ruins, but his only way of saving himself is escape. Evil which has been created by Ushers and ruined them, is not defeated at the end of the story.

Cite this essay

Topic of Incest in “The Fall of the House of Usher”. (2017, Apr 24). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/topic-of-incest-in-the-fall-of-the-house-of-usher-essay

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