Dark hanging low in the heavens”(1). Right at the

Dark Romantic
literature began in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century as a fascination with
the twisted thoughts of the mind.  The
irrational and demonic writing has been associated with gothic writings.  The thoughts of this movement protested
against the perfectionist beliefs and leaned towards the idea of
self-destruction, death and non-conformity. 
Edgar Allan Poe was one of the most influential Dark Romantic writers in
the United States and his work in “The Fall of the House of Usher” is largely analytical
in its text to be psychologically demanding for both the reader and the
characters in the story.  “The Fall
of the House of Usher” explores some of the classical concepts that Dark
Romantic Literature shows, which include the physical isolation of the estate
and the mental isolation of the characters, the confinement of the Usher family
in their home and madness that manifests in the mind.  

            From
the initial first few lines in the story, Poe sets the scene for one of his
classical dark and gloomy settings; “it was a dark and soundless day near the
end of the year, and clouds were hanging low in the heavens”(1).  Right at the beginning, the reader knows what
to expect because the narrator describes the house and it’s surrounding as
isolated.  Poe continues “during the whole of a dull, dark, and
soundless day in the autumn of the year…” (1). 
This story is largely about aesthetics is clear from the very first
paragraph, where the narrator echoes the theory of the sublime in contrasting
the emotion of “insufferable” gloom as the character approaches the Usher
mansion with that “half pleasurable” sentiment, with which the mind usually
receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible”
(Zimmerman, 48).  Not only is the setting
that Poe sets for the reader somewhat dreary and already morbid but it also
allows the reader to see the fear of isolation is real and living in this
story.  The narrator describes the Usher
family lineage, which was always isolated. 
“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” (Poe).  The environment in and around the house has a
physical manifestation of mood which Poe creates “an atmosphere which had no
affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed
trees, and the grey wall, and the silent tarn–a pestilent and mystic vapor,
dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued (4).  The isolation of the house and the characters
place an obvious psychological question to the narrator.  Poe also stresses the organic relationship
between Usher and the House. Usher, in fact, argues that the House itself is
sentient because of the method of collocation of its stones; “…in the order of
their arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi which overspread them,
and of the decayed trees which stood around-above all, in the long undisturbed
endurance of this arrangement” (271). The narrator’s feelings of Gothic
horror are thus focused directly on Usher (Olson).

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Roderick and
his sister Madeline’s extreme isolation from others is a cause of an unhealthy
relationship and brings them together in a super natural way.  His obsessive quest after his destiny
isolates him from society in an extreme fashion (Howes 1986).  “I feel that the period will sooner or later
arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the
grim phantasm, FEAR” (280).  Although
Madeline is diagnoses with a mysterious disease, Roderick shows signs that he
too is disturbed.  “There was an iciness,
a sinking, a sickening of the heart” (1). 
The physical isolation of Madeline after the reader was told she was
dead is another interesting personification of the theme of isolation in the
house.  However, when Poe shows the
reader that it is not only the characters that carry isolation, but the
physical home carries a sense of supernatural characteristics, such as the
confinements and darkness, the embellishments of the long windows and the heavy
dreary feeling that is carried throughout the house, the story becomes very
disturbing.  The isolation in the house
and of the house has caused a sense of madness between the characters and their
environment.  Fear of isolation can have
the ability to change perception, including the characters.

            Roderick and Madeline have been
isolated in this house together, which has brought out questionable thoughts
about their intimate relationship, but also about their frame of mind.  They have clearly gone mad and the house is a
contributing factor.  “While the objects
around me–while the carvings of the ceilings, the somber tapestries of the
walls, the ebon blackness of the floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial
trophies which rattled as I strode, were but matters to which, or to such as
which, I had been accustomed from my infancy… I still wondered to find how
unfamiliar were the fancies which ordinary images were stirring up” (6).  The narrator, who is only known as Roderick’s
childhood friend, describes Roderick’s behavior as strange and aloof, descending
into his mental illness.  “His voice
varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision (when the animal spirits seemed
utterly in abeyance) to that species of energetic concision–that abrupt,
weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation–that leaden, self-
balanced and perfectly modulated guttural utterance”, Poe continues “which may
be observed in the lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium, during
the periods of his most intense excitement” (9).  The narrator describes the state of his
friend and the home that he is living in only with his sister.  The narrator notes on the inconsistencies of
Roderick but does not offer any scientific explanation of his condition, which
allows the reader to use their imagination in determining if he is going mad
because of his isolation or because of the supernatural forces within the
house.  David W. Butler attempts to
demonstrate that Roderick Usher displays the very set of symptoms nineteenth
century medicine described as hypochondria, arguing that is not only possible
but necessary to “discovery the exact nature of Usher’s disease” in order to
understand the relationship between Roderick’s medical condition and
romanticism (Roche 21).  The relation
makes the possible the transmission of physical, mental and or/ more disease
between foreign body and a “healthy” subject or humanized entity or object
(22).  Roche continues with the thought that
the narrator also describes Roderick’s and Madeline’s state as contagious, the
mere sight of the sister causing “dread”, which the brother has “a mind from
which darkness… poured fourth upon all object of the moral and physical
universe (22). 

There is also a clear line of inappropriate behavior between
Roderick and Madeline in which the story gives incestuous undertone of brother
and sister.  This arguably, can be either
a cause or symptom of their mental illness. 
Both live in the isolated home, without spouses, into their adult years
and the narrator describes, “the entire family lay in the direct line of
descent” (4).  This could be an important
clue to their mental illness, which stems from their inbred genes.  The way that the narrator describes the Usher
family seems as if they were not from this world, adding to the mystery of the
family and the strangeness of the characters. “I was aware, however, that his
very ancient family had been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar
sensibility of temperament, displaying itself, through long ages, in many works
of exalted art, and manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of munificent yet
unobtrusive charity…” (3).  The fear that
manifests in the narrator is the true terror in the story.  The entire experience that the narrator is
going through is the feeling that the reader transcends, which is what becomes
fearful.  The classical value of “The
Fall of the House of Usher” lies in the symbolism of the story and in the
similarly between Roderick Usher and the mansion that is the literal referent
of the title.  There is a direct
coloration between life and reason, and death and madness in the house and as
the last remaining members of the Usher family (Unrue 1995).  Roderick’s death is the breaking point,
creating the emotional mess we find the narrator in.  “I felt creeping upon me, by slow yet certain
degrees the wild influences of his own fantastic yet impressive superstitions”
(9).  Roderick did not deliberately
attack the narrator’s sanity, but the narrator insists that identifying with
Roderick’s pain led his imagination into a “malfeasance”.  The narrator tries to prove his own
intellectual participation in the events, and claims an active role for
himself.  At the end of the story, we
find him again an outsider, standing before the crumbled “House of Usher”.  Both physically he is saved and psychologically
he is able to put the relationship to rest (Howes 74).  The actual fall of the house is secondary to
the narrator’s state of state of mind after his experience.  The narrator loses confidence in his hero,
but stays by his side up to the moment of the actual physical separation (76).   There are Dark Romantic elements in the
story that include the mystery of the characters; their mental illness and the
isolation of the house, the landscape and the dismal weather as well as the
narration of a single man that the reader does not know much about.  The most interesting point from an analytical
standpoint is why the narrator is visiting the Usher family home and why does
the reader know so little about everything? 
The reader is left in the dark about most of the details of the story,
which is the darkest element to this vague story.  Perhaps the concept of vagueness is contributing
to the element of fear.  Through his
arrangement of incidents and motifs in this story, Poe contrives to “prove”
that the pure intellect cannot rationally understand the process of creating
beauty.  The story itself demonstrates
that’s the artistic imagination cannot be intellectually understood.  Poe makes his narrator as analytical as
possible about the psychology of the imagination.  By having him discuss in advance the powers
of deception, Poe hopes to win the readers confidence for his later testimony
(Olsen 1960). 

The theme of claustrophobia in the story refers to the location of
physical house and the mental state of characters, including the mental state
of the house, which is a living super natural power.  The narrator is essentially trapped in the
house until its collapse and the characters together cannot move around easily,
which gives the house its mystery and own features of being alive.  “He was enchained by certain superstitious
impression in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for many
years, he never ventured forth” (12).  There
is confusion to what is living and are simple objects in the house.  “A small picture presented the interior of an
immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel, with low walls, smith, white
and without interruption or device” (17). 
There are no living relatives of the Usher ‘house’; referring to the
family lineage, that as far as the narrator and the reader know, Roderick and
Madeline are the only Ushers surviving. 
Roderick are confined in the house and in their family, held up as the
only Ushers in their clan.  “House of
Usher”- an appellation which seemed to include in the minds of the peasantry
who used it, both the family and the family mansion” (3).  There is a physical collapse of the house
into a pool of water and the metaphorical fall of Usher family name.  There are four characters in this story, the
narrator, Madeline, Roderick and the House, which seems to take on an entity of
its own.

 The physical isolation of
the estate and the mental isolation of the characters in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The
Fall of the House of Usher” are explored by the narrator who visits the
siblings for a seemingly necessary health check.  He finds that the confinement of the Usher
family in their home has driven them mad and the house has taken on its own
super natural qualities.  The seemingly
inappropriate relationship between siblings and the claustrophobia of the house
has continued to manifest in Roderick and Madeline’s mind and caused alarming
behavior.