46 pages 1 hour read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Fall of the House of Usher

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1839

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Important Quotes

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“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 which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium—the bitter lapse into every-day life—the hideous dropping off of the veil.”

(Page 3)

This passage is notable for two reasons. It is part of the narrator’s first description of the emotions he feels as he approaches the house. Instead of describing his forebodings as an intoxicated fantasy, he expresses the opposite; that the fantasy was his life before. Now, he sees things as they are. The passage is also significant because it demonstrates Poe’s elaborate sentence structure. The entire passage is one sentence, marked by repetitions of phrases that create an intensifying rhythm and a heightening of emotion.

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“I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childish experiment—that of looking down within the tarn—had been to deepen the first singular impression. There can be no doubt that the consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition—for why should I not so term it?—served mainly to accelerate the increase itself. Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical law of all sentiments having terror as a basis.”

(Page 5)

The narrator expresses that the fear he experienced on entering the grounds intensified his desire to seek out more of that feeling, hence his looking into the tarn, as if he half-hoped to see something frightening. He makes an important statement about terror: Paradoxically, we find a thrill once our fear has been aroused. This is the premise on which Gothic and all horror genres operate.

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“[A]n atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn—a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.”

(Page 6)

One of horror’s characteristics is the reversal of natural order. Instead of clean air coming from the sky, near the house, a diseased air comes up from the ground. The language is not only poetic; in a damp environment, mold, bacteria, and other microorganisms can create toxic gas that is dangerous.