House of Usher Symbolism

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Words: 636 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Mar 20, 2024

Words: 636|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Mar 20, 2024

“The Fall of the House of Usher” is a prime example of Gothic literature, filled with symbolism and themes that explore the human psyche and the supernatural. The story takes place in the dilapidated mansion of the Usher family, where the narrator visits his childhood friend Roderick Usher, who is suffering from a mysterious illness. Throughout the story, Poe uses various symbols to create an atmosphere of dread and decay, reflecting the mental and physical deterioration of the Usher family and their ancestral home. This essay will explore the use of symbolism in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and how it contributes to the overall themes of decay, madness, and the supernatural.

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One of the most prominent symbols in the story is the physical decay of the House of Usher, which mirrors the mental and physical deterioration of the Usher family. The narrator describes the mansion as having “minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves” and “bleak walls with no friendly vegetation” (Poe). The decaying house represents the decline of the Usher family, who are plagued by illness and madness. The mansion’s crumbling facade and gloomy atmosphere create a sense of foreboding and impending doom, foreshadowing the tragic fate of the Usher siblings.

Another significant symbol in the story is the tarn, a dark and murky body of water that surrounds the House of Usher. The tarn reflects the desolation and decay of the mansion, as well as the psychological state of the Usher family. The narrator describes the tarn as having “no light from the setting sun could penetrate the waters, which lay oppressively still and motionless beneath a thick, dark cloud” (Poe). The tarn’s stagnant and lifeless waters symbolize the isolation and despair of the Usher family, as well as the suffocating atmosphere of the mansion. The tarn also serves as a metaphor for the subconscious mind, representing the dark and hidden depths of the human psyche.

Furthermore, the character of Madeline Usher is a symbol of death and decay in the story. Madeline is Roderick’s twin sister, who is believed to be dead and is buried in the family crypt beneath the mansion. However, she later emerges from her tomb, seemingly risen from the dead. Madeline’s appearance is ghastly and ghost-like, with “blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame” (Poe). Madeline’s resurrection symbolizes the return of repressed trauma and the haunting of the Usher family by their own dark secrets. Her eventual demise, along with the collapse of the mansion, represents the final destruction of the Usher family and their cursed lineage.

In addition to the physical and supernatural symbolism, “The Fall of the House of Usher” also explores the theme of madness and mental deterioration. Roderick Usher’s deteriorating mental state is a central focus of the story, and his descent into madness is reflected in the decaying mansion and the eerie atmosphere that surrounds it. The narrator describes Roderick as having “a species of mad hilarity in his eyes” and “a ghastly pallor of the skin” (Poe). Roderick’s mental instability is symbolized by the crumbling house and the oppressive atmosphere that pervades it, creating a sense of claustrophobia and impending doom.

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In conclusion, “The Fall of the House of Usher” is a masterful example of Gothic literature, filled with symbolism and themes that explore the human psyche and the supernatural. The physical decay of the House of Usher, the murky tarn, the character of Madeline Usher, and the theme of madness all serve as powerful symbols that contribute to the overall atmosphere of dread and decay in the story. Through these symbols, Poe creates a haunting and atmospheric tale that delves into the depths of the human soul and the mysteries of the subconscious mind.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

House of Usher Symbolism. (2024, March 20). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from
“House of Usher Symbolism.” GradesFixer, 20 Mar. 2024,
House of Usher Symbolism. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 19 Jul. 2024].
House of Usher Symbolism [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Mar 20 [cited 2024 Jul 19]. Available from:
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