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“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Alan Poe

Introduction

Edgar Alan Poe is famous worldwide as a skillful writer of psychological prose dealing with the depths of the human soul. However, his works can be considered from the sociological, and especially Marxist, point of view. Depicting the lives of human beings, Edgar Alan Poe manages to describe the society he lives in so that to assess its positive and negative sides and propose solutions for next generations.

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This paper focuses on the Marxist analysis of The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Alan Poe. The analysis includes the background of the author and the short story under consideration, as well as the detailed examination of the nature of the society Poe’s characters, and the author himself, inhabit, and the attitudes of the author towards the society contemporary to him.

Background

Author

To start with, Edgar Alan Poe (1809 – 1849), the author of the short story under analysis is a famous American writer credited for his talent of seeing deep into people’s souls. As a writer who is considered to be the father of the so-called Gothic style in literature, Edgar Alan Poe focused his writing on the issues of life and death, health and illness, peculiarities of human psychology and its deviations, etc. The criterion of art in literature, according to Poe, was the hidden meaning as the obvious one deprives the piece of work of its artistic value (Lynch and Rampton, 2005, p. 15). Not surprisingly, The Fall of the House of Usher displays several hidden messages that allow readers to interpret the work in different ways.

Plot

Thus, the plot of the story, i. e. the explicit messages rendered by Poe, is focused on the event in the life of the anonymous narrator who is invited to the house of his old friend Rodercik Usher to help the latter with his issues. On arriving at the very House of Usher, the narrator is taken aback by the dark and sad look the house has. The Gothic style of the building adds to its horror and so does the strange illness of Usher who is afraid of anything and tries to bury his twin sister alive (Hustis, 3). After allegedly managing to do this, Usher dies of his own terror when his sister comes up the stairs of his house out of her tomb.

Main Topics

Accordingly, the main topics of the short story under consideration include the consideration of human psychological peculiarities, attempts of the author to look inside of the human soul and see what moves a person to commit certain actions. As well, the short story deals with the topics of human relations, life, and death (Timmerman, 227). However, one of the most implicit topics observed in this work by Edgar Alan Poe is the consideration of contemporary society through the prism of the story’s characters and through the author’s own vision (Liu, 2007). That is why Marxist analysis of the sociological aspects of the story should be carried out to ensure a comprehensive examination of the literary work under consideration.

Marxist Criticism

Marxist ideas

So, to start the Marxist analysis, it is necessary to take a brief look at the essence of Marxism as a sociological and political movement and establish connections between this essence and the main ideas expressed in the story. First of all, Marxism is the idea of the struggle between the classes that constitute society.

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The basis for this idea includes the statement that the society is divided into the upper, middle, and lower classes (capitalists, intelligence, and workers, or proletariat) that are in a struggle for the means of production that provide people with means for existence (Liu, 2007). This struggle always results in one of these social classes being dominant, while the others are being oppressed. Although the current state of things leads to the success of capitalists, the Marxists predict the victory of the proletariat over this declining social class (as Marxists refer to the capitalists).

Drawing from this, the Marxist ideas observed in the story by Poe include the very existing division of the society into classes and the great importance of the latter: “I was aware, however, that his very ancient family had been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of temperament…” (Lynch and Rampton, 2005, p. 17). This point is rather significant for the whole plot of the story as the conflict between Usher and the outside world seems to be an allusion to the controversy between the reality of the modern time and the conservative capitalist ideas that doomed this social class to extinction.

Society critique

Further on, the main images of the story give space for the discussion of the social critique carried out by Edgar Alan Poe. The central image of this work of literature is the image of Usher’s house, which is represented almost as a living being with its eyes seen in its windows, and its death that followed the deaths of its hosts (Hustis, 3). The latter, Roderick Usher, and his twin sister Madeline also represent the conservative and somewhat isolated nature of the upper class of their contemporary society. They are caught up by fear and agitation that result in additional, mainly psychological illnesses these people display:

I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect – in terror. In this unnerved – in this pitiable condition – 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 (Lynch and Rampton, 2005, p. 20).

In these lines, the whole range of the social issues of the early 19th century, i. e. the time when Edgar Alan Poe created his masterpieces, can be observed. As usual, in Poe’s works, this message is implicit and left for the readers to draw it from their knowledge of history, social development course, and intuition (Timmerman, 227). Thus, the first half o the 19th century was the period of great changes in all the spheres of human activity including politics, economics, industry, etc., and these changes made the then-dominant social forces fear all the new and progressive that mostly the middle and lower classes brought.

Relationships between classes

Therefore, the relationships between the classes of society are represented rather vividly in the short story by Edgar Alan Poe. Even despite the fact that the actual plot of the work touches upon the life and issues observed in the minds of the members of the upper class only, the implicit message of the story allows the reader to draw parallels between them and the lower class (Liu, 2007). In other words, the contrast between the two classes is observed in the fear and terror that the upper class experiences towards the world outside the walls of their mansions and huge sophisticated houses, i. e. towards communication with the lower class representatives (Timmerman, 227). Thus, Usher feels protected and safe only surrounded by the walls of his home:

He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for many years, he had never ventured forth… – an effect which the physique of the gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn in to which they all look down, had, at length, brought about upon the morale of his existence (Lynch and Rampton, 2005, p. 20).

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Drawing from the above lines, the author seems to compare the tensions that start appearing between Roderick Usher and the rest of the world with the issues that troubled the 19th-century world in respect of the struggle of the lower class for its rights and freedoms.

The abolition of slavery, suffragist movements and other expressions of the protests against the social conservatism and the domination of the upper social class made the latter fall into pieces as the House of Usher finally did: “I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder – there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters – and the deep and dark tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “House of Usher” (Lynch and Rampton, 2005, p. 30). This, to my mind, can be considered as an allusion to the end of the dominance of the upper class in human society.

Author’s understanding of the society

All the above-presented considerations allow stating that the author’s understanding of contemporary society was somewhere on the merge of the progressive and the conservative one. For example, it is rather natural for Edgar Alan Poe to describe the history of his relations with Rodercik Usher in the context of the origin and the class belonging of the latter (Timmerman, 227). However, moving further to the depiction of the house of Usher, the author takes up a more pessimistic and critical tone in his writing.

The Gothic setting seems “profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered”, while the general impression made on people by it is oppressing: “I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow” (Lynch and Rampton, 2005, p. 19). These lines evidence that Edgar Alan Poe had a deep understanding of the social class division that became especially sharp during his lifetime, and this understanding made him feel sorrow for the past and fear for the future.

Conclusions

To conclude, Edgar Alan Poe is famous worldwide as a skillful writer of psychological prose dealing with the depths of the human soul. However, his works can be considered from the sociological, and especially Marxist, point of view, and the short story The Fall of the House of Usher proves this point of view by presenting the implicit, but nevertheless discernible, an allusion to the social class division through the images of Rodercik Usher, his twin sister Madeline, and their old Gothic house that was the part of their lives and died together with its hosts. The struggle of social classes is depicting through these images as well, showing the fear that the upper class had for the coming changes and for the lower class that was coming into force in the early 19th century.

Works Cited

Hustis, Harriet. “”Reading Encrypted but Persistent”: The Gothic of Reading and Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”.” Studies in American Fiction 27.1 (1999): 3.

Liu, Xiumei. The Unity Effect in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”. GRIN Verlag, 2007.

Lynch, Gerald, and Daivd Rampton, eds. Short Fiction:An Introductory Anthology. 2nd. Toronto: Nelson, 2005.

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Timmerman, John H. “House of Mirrors: Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”.” Papers on Language & Literature 39.3 (2003): 227.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 8). “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Alan Poe. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/the-fall-of-the-house-of-usher-by-edgar-alan-poe/

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StudyCorgi. (2021, November 8). “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Alan Poe. https://studycorgi.com/the-fall-of-the-house-of-usher-by-edgar-alan-poe/

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"“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Alan Poe." StudyCorgi, 8 Nov. 2021, studycorgi.com/the-fall-of-the-house-of-usher-by-edgar-alan-poe/.

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StudyCorgi. "“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Alan Poe." November 8, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/the-fall-of-the-house-of-usher-by-edgar-alan-poe/.

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