Even though Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” is recognised as one of his most masterful short stories – especially for the non-redundancy of elements and details, for the emotional, thematic focus on madness and isolation, and for the clever use of excerpts from other literary works as plot devices, for the purposes of foreshadowing, for instance – the simple narrative is characterised by straightforward plot development and an unsurprising climax. It follows the psychological experience of a single unnamed narrator who arrives at the house of a best friend, Roderick Usher, offering companionship and ultimately providing an account of the gothic tale from his perspective. Madeline Usher, the twin sister of Usher, is the other living Usher mentioned in the story.
Across the short book, the narrator and the unwell Usher move from one scene to another speedily. The twin sister, who is also not in good shape, falls into trances in the beginning, before the two men engage in reading, the playing of musical instruments, and singing. The both of them talk about the state and significance of the family mansion, before they entomb the female Usher – said to have died – in the family tomb before her permanent burial. Despite some doubts over the state of her body, the narrator completes the task, but a series of events and observations begin to unsettle: The increasing agitation of those who are alive, the glowing of the lake which surrounds the house, and the changing weather patterns enveloping the house. The aforementioned climax and conclusion soon follow.
As tension builds, the sequential use of the excerpts from other literary works adds to the unsettling atmosphere, and by placing the reader in the shoes of the narrator “The Fall of the House of Usher” – a title which, respectively, literally and figuratively refers to the destruction of the mansion as well as the deaths of the two remaining Ushers, perhaps illustrating the extent to which the family members are tied to the mansion – continues to create suspense. Poe allows the narrator to escape the disintegrating mansion unscathed, though the horror of having buried the sister alive and later witnessing the deaths of both brother and sister will linger. While the modern reader might be left underwhelmed, the potency of the narrative might have been better appreciated during its time.