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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Symbols & Motifs

The House of Usher

Though it is unusual for an inanimate object to operate as a character in fiction, the House of Usher is the story’s antagonist. It is the antagonist because it is the entity that is stopping the protagonist from achieving his goal of saving Usher from his illness. Themes of the sentience of non-sentient beings, supernatural forces, and horror tropes that upend the laws of nature are built up, making the house an entity that exerts an evil will on its inhabitants.

Houses are a key feature of the Gothic literary genre. Houses in Gothic literature are old and almost always in a state of decay. They have housed generations of the same family and have been the site of countless sins, intrigues, and aberrations. Houses in Gothic literature are frequently haunted, and the hauntings are often the residue of memory and shame rather than supernatural phenomena.

In Gothic literature, the house or mansion need not be “Gothic” in the strictly architectural sense. Though the houses at the center of Gothic novels are often castles, it is more important that they evoke themes of moral, structural, and aesthetic corruption than that they contain flying buttresses and ribbed vaults.