The Fall of the House of Usher

Literary significance and criticism

Along with "The Tell-Tale Heart", "The Black Cat" and "The Cask of Amontillado", "The Fall of the House of Usher" is considered Poe's most famous work of prose.[13] This highly unsettling macabre work is recognized as a masterpiece of American Gothic literature. Indeed, as in many of his tales, Poe borrows much from the already developed Gothic tradition. Still, as G. R. Thomson writes in his Introduction to Great Short Works of Edgar Allan Poe [p 36], "the tale has long been hailed as a masterpiece of Gothic horror; it is also a masterpiece of dramatic irony and structural symbolism."

"The Fall of the House of Usher" has been criticized for being too formulaic. Poe was criticized for following his own patterns established in works like "Morella" and "Ligeia" using stock characters in stock scenes and stock situations. Repetitive themes like an unidentifiable disease, madness, and resurrection are also criticized.[14]

Poe's inspiration for the story may be based upon events of the Hezekiah Usher House, which was located on the Usher estate that is now a three-block area bounded in modern Boston by Tremont Street to the northwest, Washington Street to the southeast, Avery Street to the south and Winter Street to the north. The house was constructed in 1684 and either torn down or relocated in 1830.[15] Other information tells that a sailor and the young wife of the older owner were caught and entombed in their trysting spot by her husband. When the Usher House was torn down in 1830, two bodies were found embraced in a cavity in the cellar.[16]

Another source of inspiration may be from an actual couple by the name Mr. and Mrs. Luke Usher, the friends and fellow actors of his mother Eliza Poe.[17] The couple took care of Eliza's three children (including Poe) during her time of illness and eventual death.

Scholars speculate that Poe, who was an influence on Herman Melville, inspired the character of Ahab in Melville's novel Moby-Dick. John McAleer maintained that the idea for "objectifying Ahab's flawed character" came from the "evocative force" of Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher". In both Ahab and the house of Usher, the appearance of fundamental soundness is visibly flawed — by Ahab's livid scar, and by the fissure in the masonry of Usher.[18]


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