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The Short Story “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe: Reliability of the Narrator

After finishing the short story by Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, the reader may be left wondering about the validity of the events that took place during the narration. That hypothesis can only be tested through the assessment of clues that Poe leaves for the reader throughout the tale. It is common for his stories to have deceptive traits which are only hinted at but never mentioned clearly. The clues suggest that the narrator is unreliable perhaps due to mental illness, drug use, or both.

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The first clue appears in the narrator’s description of his surroundings. As the first-person description of the setting starts it stirs much of melancholy and despair in the reader and the characters. The house is referred to as “dull, dark, and soulless”. The clouds hang over the characters in an oppressive manner, a gloom follows them, and later, there is a more abstract notion of “utter depression of the soul”. Poe’s first glimpse at the true nature of the story is revealed here, through the narrator. He mentions himself that there was a rise in his superstition and that he imagined a repressive nature to the atmosphere of the house, because he speculated that he may actually have been dreaming. After that, the narrator makes the decision to recount the actual details of the house. This can signal that his previous state of being was unfit and stalled him from examining his surroundings accurately.

Further into the story, the narrator makes two references to opium. He compares the previously mentioned depression for the soul to the “after-dream of the reveler upon Opium”. The second time it is brought up, the narrator is likening Roderick Usher’s voice to the sound of a “lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of Opium”. All these deep and evocative expressions concerning the drug can hint at its relationship with the narrator. It is possible that he is someone who had previously used opium or may even be addicted. The usage of drugs often ties in with cognitive limitations, which would mean that the narrator’s normal state of being would not be identical to his state under the influence of opium. Other cases of cognitive constraints are encountered such as when the narrator shudders without reason and cannot grapple with shadows around the house. There is also confusion the narrator has towards Usher, who he does not always recognize and is not aware of the man’s illness. This is all supported by the narrator having doubts about his own perceptions and emotions.

The most important aspect of the story is the characterization of the narrator. He is often defining himself with the traits of other characters. For instance, Usher, like the narrator, is described as having a mental disorder and being unconscious. In the following events, however, the narrator is able to remember poetry exactly how Usher composed it. Additionally, he calls Usher both mentally unwell while being incredibly reasonable. Because the narrator has been using Usher’s features in parallel with his own, it is unclear if Usher is the one suffering mental illness or the narrator.

During the nights of Madeleine’s fleeing from the tomb, the narrator becomes even more unwell. He reads a story to Usher, which parallels the current events taking place. Later on, the narrator continues to be in a state of severe anxiety and it becomes possible that he imagined the occurring events. In his state of terror, it is likely that Madeleine never escaped and that under his own stress, the interaction with things he considers melancholy and despondent, he could not help but imagine that she did. At the very end, it is Usher who calls him a madman. Whether it is self-realization or Usher finally seeing madness in his companion, the narrator was not being completely truthful.

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StudyCorgi. "The Short Story “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe: Reliability of the Narrator." September 20, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-short-story-the-fall-of-the-house-of-usher-by-edgar-allan-poe-reliability-of-the-narrator/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "The Short Story “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe: Reliability of the Narrator." September 20, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/the-short-story-the-fall-of-the-house-of-usher-by-edgar-allan-poe-reliability-of-the-narrator/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'The Short Story “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe: Reliability of the Narrator'. 20 September.

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