Poe: In the Fall House of Usher
Edgar Allen Poe, key background information is deliberately omitted. Poe’s signature gothic style and genius are all about the elements of imagery and suspense. Immediately the reader is on its toes waiting and wondering about information that is never revealed, while at the same time, the author unravels a story that makes them forget hey ever wanted or needed background.
Reading between the lines of this story, however, reveals necessary details that allow glimpses at background information. For instance, Poe mentions that Roderick and the narrator are “boon companions”, in other words, best friends from childhood. The narrator does acknowledge that his friend was quite guarded, or ‘reserved’ while they were young. Even at that, one would assume that the very basics would be known between friends, yet we learn that the narrator has never before been to the House of Usher, nor does he really know a lot about his friend’.
How could they have been so ‘close’ growing up, but not visit one another’s homes; or know that your friend has a sister, let alone that she is a twin? The narrator also mentions an awareness of the strange lineage that makes up the familys ancestry, but seems aloof to the why or how it could be possible. It does not seem evident that the narrator knew of the sister prior to his visit. But upon learning of this and making the connection that incest was necessary to propel the family in the manner in which Poe suggests, parallels are clearly drawn.
Assuming the family mansion is ‘alive’, one arallel is that the family and the house are feeding off of one another, as are the siblings. A sort of yin and yang effect where one is weak, the other thrives; one cannot exist without the other, perhaps. Poe certainly leaves a lot of interpretation up to the reader in his crafting of this story. Some noticeable ambiguities are: Is the house itself ill? If so, is it ill because of the familys impurities, or vice-versa? Are morality and mortality intertwined? Is the house evil or is it condemning?
Do the siblings live in this dilapidated environment by choice, out of duty, by fate or of hame? However Poe intended it, it is clear that the house its inhabitants share the same ill features and whether or not the reader believes the house is possessed, or has powers or is alive, Roderick certainly does. By the end of the story, the narrator appears to believe this as well. The story needs no background because it centers on the ‘current’ and twisted relationship that exists between the siblings. Behind the scenes, they may have had had an incestuous relationship, which appears to have not produced an heir.
This of course is an assumption as it is never openly stated, ut implied when Usher mentions “… a tenderly beloved sister; his sole companion for long years”his last and only relative on earth. ” (Norton Anthology p. 692-693). Roderick goes on to imply that he could not bear living without her, should she pass. Even if they, themselves did not participate in such acts, they were presumably born of a long line of the same, which lends wonder to the genetic abnormalities which could possibly occur. While neither seems to have obvious physical deformities, it is question as to how much is inherent and how much is externally influenced.
The narrator arrives at Usher House already confused as to why an old friend has suddenly called upon him. Poe allows the reader to experience the story at the same time as the narrator, who is shocked by what he sees in the house. He is also confused as to how someone could live this way and struggles to understand as the friends ‘catch up’. The narrator does seems to react as anyone would, trying to reassure his friend that he is imagining certain things and how the notion of fear can contradict reason and rationality. We all experience those types of moments.
While eading a poem to Roderick in an attempt to calm him, strange sounds from lower in the house begin. It is at this point that the story turns for the narrator. We are afforded the unique opportunity to see the narrator on the cusp between his prior disbelief and belief. Are the sounds he is now hearing real or imagined? If this were a movie, it would be a good spot for a freeze frame while we listen to the thoughts of the narrator. For the narrator, time seems to stand still for a moment while he absorbs what is happening and tries to make sense of it and this is why he does othing.
Both men are paralyzed in fear and perhaps now accepting that the sounds are real (to them). It is a chilling moment and for the reader, one Poe is able to translate well. To sum up why such potentially important matters about human relationships are sidestepped in this tale; what we think are important matters, may not be. There is more than meets the eye and THAT is what is important. Poe gives the reader scant background on an as-needed basis and does so flawlessly. He is able to heighten the initial suspense of the story almost before it begins.