The Fall of the House of Usher: Comparison to Mental and Physical Illness

The Fall of the House of Usher is a story about a sick man whose fears demonstrate themselves through his mystical, sentient family home. The story explores mental and physical illness and how it affects people closest to those who are sick. In The Fall of the House of Usher, the narrator tells a story where he visits an old childhood friend who is suffering from a severe mental illness. Automatically, there is a sense of melancholy and misery in the narrator’s description of the house. The story begins on a soundless day in autumn; the setting is described 457as a discouraging, dark, and a vacant home which floods the narrator with an unsettling feeling of utter depression and unredeemed dreariness. The house has more power over the narrator than it should which allows the reader to question the narrator’s mental health, one can argue the narrator is insane. The narrator feels as though everything surrounding the house is mysterious and enigmatic, which brings upon an evil power destructive to human beings (Weisheng 289). Setting is used to convey messages, ideas, and images; Edgar Allan Poe can communicate truth about the characters mental health through the setting.

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Poe’s goal was to create a gloomy mood for the story which brought upon supernatural spook. The home had been engulfed by a fungus and had an atmosphere which had smelled of decayed trees; the decay surrounding the home has infected the air, which may have caused illness to those living in the home. With dark and uninviting walls; the home suffered from crumbling conditions. The eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn (Poe 3). This is the narrator describing the exterior of the Usher home, focusing on the flaws; a debilitated condition of an old mansion. The mental illnesses Roderick is suffering from such as anxiety and depression, directly describes the characteristics of the House of Usher; dull, sluggish crumbling and debilitating. The fissure in the wall of the home is equivalent to the fissure in Roderick’s mind. Every state of mind and body demonstrates itself as a characteristic of the home’s exterior. The house is neglected, similar to the health of Roderick and his sister Madeline. The house itself becomes the figurative example of the characters; the house is a projection of the characters distressed personalities. As the mind and body of Roderick and Madeline starts to deteriorate, the Usher home begins to decay.

The Fall of the House of Usher has many themes, one of them being insanity. Each character seems to be engulfed in their own state of mind, creating illusions and turning them into reality. The home seems to play with the characters minds, but Madeline and Roderick trap themselves in the house filled with their own fear. The narrator acknowledges that simple, natural objects can have complete power over us, Roderick has been dominated by all things in his home. He is in a constant battle with these things and his mind; in this battle he is a loser (Weisheng 291) Roderick is enchanted and terrified by the inscrutable things around him, he suffers from despair, and mental breakdowns, showing little signs of agency (Weisheng 299) Unpleasant ideas and obsessive thoughts can control our minds and are difficult to get rid of.

Involuntary images and visual memories are prominent in many types of psychopathology. Patients with posttraumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorders, depression, and psychosis frequently report repeated visual intrusions corresponding to a small number of real or imaginary events, usually extremely vivid, detailed, and with highly distressing content. (Brewin, et al 210)

This is similar to someone who is fighting depression, they are unable to look past the distorted images of life that their sickness gives them. When suffering from a mental illness, trying to see life in a brighter and more positive perspective can sometimes be an impossible task. Roderick has fallen into a severe mental depression. He suffers from various nervous disorders; he is a hypochondriac and hypersensitive to most stimuli. Roderick is mentally disturbed by something and becomes agitated and restless (Weisheng 293) Usher describes his illness as a family evil, he believes his depression has been transferred through generations of bad genetics. Roderick’s hypochondria and mental instability lead him to believe he is physically ill without any medical diagnoses from a doctor. Madeline’s sickness is also compared to utter depression, she suffers from apathy; gradually wasting away and becomes bed ridden until her imaginary death.

Isolation also plays a great role in this short story; isolation is a symptom of depression and anxiety. Roderick and his sister Madeline self-isolate and are completely removed from normality. The extreme separation brings the family members closer together, to a supernatural point that is incomprehensible to any outsider. The twins feed off one another, creating nothing but negative energy in the home which causes them to be physically and mentally ill. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had put forth, at no period, any enduring branch; in other words, that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain (Poe 2). Roderick and Madeline are the last of the Usher family. They both are suffering from odd illnesses which could be a direct cause of the intermarriage in the family; a possible genetic cause of their illness. Roderick’s mental problems come from his family history, it is believed that he is haunted by memories of a remote and repressed past, he now suffers from a traumatic mind because of his unresolved past (Weisheng 293). The twin’s relationship is mysterious, bizarre and almost incestuous; the bond that they share as brother and sister is powerful. It is believed that twins are one person split into two, unable to survive without one another; their bond exceeds even death. Without Madeline, Roderick’s physical and mental condition begin to deteriorate even more, he suffers from a severe distress of the soul. Poe describes windows as being long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within (3). The house held a sense of imprisonment and confinement as described in this quote, windows were out of reach; escaping the home was almost impossible. The narrator’s role as an outsider was very evident, it was clear that he did not belong in this home. Madeline and Roderick wished to remain entirely secluded from the exterior world. Poe describes the siblings as, A striking similitude between the brother and sister now first arrested my attention; and Usher, divining, perhaps, my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which I learned that the deceased and himself had been twins, and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them (8). While the siblings are hereditarily close as twins, they are closer than most fraternal twins because the entire Usher race has become inbred; the Usher family is genetically incestual.

It is evident that the physical features of the House of Usher symbolize Roderick and Madeline’s mental health. Poe did a great job depicting the severe mental illness of Roderick and Madeline through the setting, allowing the reader to better understand the characters. The short story is mysterious, there is a power to control while the characters suffer from despair, and melancholy. The twin’s relationship is so strong that it eventually leads to death. The House of Usher had complete power over the characters, leading them to their mental and physical illnesses. As the twins start to become lifeless and their mind and body begin to deteriorate, the Usher home is no more, as it crumbles down. The home left nothing but misery and an unsettling fear.

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The Fall of the House of Usher: Comparison to Mental and Physical Illness. (2019, Aug 07). Retrieved January 31, 2023 , from

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