Over the course of his short life of forty years, American writer and literary critic, Edgar Allan Poe gave birth too many masterpieces, being the pioneer of many genres including short story, detective story, and science fiction. In popular culture, Edgar Allan Poe went down with the image of a “tormented artist,” and it is safe to assume that the writer translated his psychological distress into his finest literary pieces. This essay will deal with one of the most famous tales of macabre “The Fall of the House of Usher” and examine its elements from the psychoanalytic perspective.
The Symbolism of the House
In psychoanalysis, a house symbolizes a human psyche in all its entirety, and the appearance and structure of the house are reflective of a person’s mental state. Now, it is essential to combine this psychoanalytic approach with Poe’s primary literary method – “totality”: each work of his can and should be perceived in its wholeness and every element matters (Timmerman 160). In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the narrator receives news that his boyhood companion, Roderick Usher is very unwell and suffers from a daunting mental illness. Once the narrator arrives, he describes the house where Usher and his twin sister reside “a mansion of gloom (Poe 4).” Further, he notices that the time itself seems to be encapsulated there: his eye meets antique tapestries and armorial trophies, which, however, look so frail as if they are about to disintegrate any moment.
After studying detail and elements, the narrator makes a conclusion about the house which helps a reader understand Roderick’s psyche. The guest observes “the perfect adaptation of parts” and “the crumbling condition of individual stones (Poe 6).” Roderick Usher resembles his mansion: from the outside, he looks sane and functioning; however, each element of his being is ready to break triggering the fall of the entire “house.”
The second compelling element of Poe’s story is the introduction of twin characters. There are two peculiarities to such a decision that need to be examined: first, there must be an intention behind creating a similitude between characters and second, there is a reason why siblings are of the opposite sexes. Due to the meager role that Madeline Usher plays throughout the story up until the finale and the similar symptoms of suffering and apathy, one may assume that Madeline and Roderick could be two halves of a single person. However, what seems more reasonable from the psychoanalytic perspective is to interpret the constant presence of Madeline in the house – Roderick’s psyche – as the incarnation of anima. In psychoanalysis, for a man, anima reflects the hidden femininity, sensuality, and soulfulness, which in Roderick’s case, is neglected and murdered. Locking the sister out in the basement is highly symbolic: by doing that, Roderick forces her to stay isolated in his subconscious.
Usher’s Three Levels of Psyche
Lastly, it is important to examine Roderick Usher’s three levels of the psyche. According to Freud, there are three “layers” to a human personality: id, ego, and superego (Meng 1181). Throughout “The Fall of the House of Usher,” it is possible to find the expression of each of the listed levels. The first level is id which reflects a person’s “animalistic” side and subconscious desires which might be controversial, outrageous, and contradictory to what is held as socially acceptable. Meng claims that Usher siblings do not just live together – they have an incestuous affair, which is normal in their family. Thus, Roderick Usher succumbs to his sexual id and satisfies its desires. However, the superego – imposed social rules and expectations outside his family – do not let him have children with her. His ego – the integrated personality – is crumbling under the tension between the id and the superego which pushes him to commit a murder. Among the contributing factors to the destructive tendencies, Meng also names the environment (1181). The researcher claims that the reclusive nature of the sibling’s dwelling and terrible family traditions if not gave rise then at least amplified their psychological disorders.
Poe became the first American writer to make a living solely writing, editing, and publishing. Despite his vast impact, during his lifetime, Poe struggled with staying afloat financially. On top of the money issues, there is evidence that the writer suffered from many disorder including recurrent depression, anxiety, bipolar personality disorder as well as alcohol and drug abuse. In his famous horror story “The Fall of the House of Usher,” many elements could be of interest for a psychoanalytic. For instance, the house itself is an accurate depiction of Roderick Usher’s psyche. His sister might be reflective of his suppressed emotional side and be his anima. Lastly, in the story, it is possible to find the expression of the different levels of a human’s personality: the impulsive id, the strict superego, and the mediating ego. Roderick fails to find inner peace, and the aftermath of the conflict is two deaths and the fall of the house of Usher.
Allan, Edgar. The Fall of the House of Usher. Best Books Publishing, 2014.
Meng, He. “A Freudian Psychoanalytic Study of Causes of Usher’s Abnormal Personality in The Fall of The House of Usher.” DEStech Transactions on Social Science, Education and Human Science, 2017, 1179-1182.
Timmerman, John H. “House of Mirrors: Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.” Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and Other Stories-New Edition, 2014, pp. 159-172.