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The Fall of The House of Usher—a Psychoanalytical Approach

The aim of this paper is to scrutinize the way in which the three main characters in
Egdar Allan Poe’s masterpiece “The Fall of the House of Usher” are undoubtedly some pieces
on the chessboard that represents Sigmund Freud’s theory upon the structure of the psyche or
the iceberg theory. Apart from all the details in setting, atmosphere and characters that this
story contains, there is a very strong psychoanalytical perspective from which this story can
be looked upon and which I am going to discuss in the following paragraphs.
To begin with, the iceberg theory divides the human’s mind schematically into
three dimensions: the Id or the unconscious which contains “everything that is inherited, that
is presented by birth, that is fixed in the constitution”, the Id incorporates all the primitive
desires, it is based on the hedonism of life, of seeking pleasure in all things and avoiding pain.
On the other hand, the Id encompasses all our deepest fears, dreams and desires which tend to
subjugate the social conceptions and boundaries. The second dimension of the psyche is the
ego or the conscious personality, the side of the mind which feeds itself with our repressed
feelings, the place in which we store the “forbidden” fears and desires mentioned above. The
last part of the „iceberg” is represented by the super ego, the social construct of the mind, the
orders and values accepted and allowed by the society.
Following this scheme of the psyche, we can apply these concepts upon our
characters in “The Fall of the House of Usher” and we will see that the three characters
perfectly fit this chessboard as the story unfolds. First of all, the current short story is a gothic
story, very typical of Poe, more exactly, in which the atmosphere, the setting, the characters
and the gloomy portrail of the surroundings invites the reader to stomp on a territory of terror
and fear and a constant sensation of claustrophobia. In the very beginning we learn that there
is a certain narrator involved in the story who is meant to be a mediator between the events
and the reader, instead of things being solely related in the third person, they are related by a
direct participant to the events, by an eyewitness who is presenting the things before our eyes.
This narrator decides to visit his childhood friend Roderick Usher’s house and the fact that
there is no reason why he made this decision can say a lot of things about the tone and the
atmosphere of the story. Nothing is predictable in this story, unexpected things happen,
although the strange “draught” of the whole plot can predict it.

Stepping forward in the story, we find out that Roderick is very sick, he is very
sensitive to light, sound, taste and tactile sensations, he is also in a permanent state of fear that
he cannot escape from. He lives with his sister, Madeline, about whom we sooner learn she is
Roderick’s twin and she is also very sick, she suffers from catalepsy and Roderick envisages
her death. This death comes sooner than both Roderick and the narrator expect and it is
manifested in the strangest form. The male characters bury Madeline in the tombs under the
house, out of the fear that, if she was burried in another place, the doctors could use her
corpse for experiements. Again, we can grasp Roderick’s constant fears of something. After a
while, during the night, the two men realize Madeline is not dead and they burried her alive.
She throws herself at Roderick as she were, trembling, bloody, Usher falls to the ground and
dies along with his sister. After this terrifying scene, the narrator watched the house of Usher
topple down, splitting itself in two and sinking in the pool before it.
Coming back to the initial ideology based on the iceberg theory, the bonds between
these characters and their representative sides of the psyche are strongly related. In this way,
Roderick could be the Id. Besides his awful appearance involving pale skin and matted hair,
Roderick is the embodiment of a socially unacceptable behaviour; he expresses himself by
means of art, by his songs and stories which also have themes such as fear, despair, anxiety
and self-destruction. His lack of communication with the others around him and resorting to
this way of expressing feelings through art might be seen as freak-like by the society.
Ultimately, everyhting thst is not accepted by the society is comprised in the id, all the fears
that he nourishes and his deepest desires. On the other hand, Madeline, his sister, is
represented here as the ego, a pure reflection of his repressed feelings and ideas that he cannot
express, of all those unspoken words and unutterable feelings of self-destruction. Moreover,
besides beings the ego, Madeline is Roderick’s doppelgänger, she is his double, she is the
personification of his utmost thoughts, his very deeply rooted desires and fears and basically
of everything that he cannot give a word to. This association brings us in mind the situation of
the very well known concept of the madwoman in the attic. Here, in this story, the house of
Usher is the ultimate attic for the madman, the feeling of entrapment and isolation from the
ouside world, the space of anxiety in which the madman breaks loose to all the grotesque and
terrifying fears, but which is also a “protection” from the real world where he could feel
himself, in which he can be free. In the end, only when the two protagonists, Roderick and
Madeline, die in agony, does the house actually vanish. This is because the house represented
the “pivot” for the two brothers, it could not die until they died. Poe himself described the
house as “the interior of an immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel, with low walls,

smooth, white, and without interruption or device. Certain accessory points of the design
served well to convey the idea that this excavation lay at an exceeding depth below the
surface of the earth”, descriprion which again brings up to the point that the house was just as
a prison for madmen, like a sanatorium, with its low, smooth and white walls. Looking at it
from another perspective, we could also see the house as a lost, wandering mind, full of fears
and deceptions (these fears being here represented by Roderick and his sister), and it cannot
fall down until the fears take whole control over the body, until they eat one alive. Only then
can the “house” give in and let the fears rule in complete agony.
Last but not least, the superego in the story is embodied by the narrator himself.
He is the one who somehow stays out of the actions of the other two characters, he is just an
onlooker, he watches from behind and analyzes the situation silently. The narrator is the
ultimate appearance of the society with all its conceptions and standards, representing its
morally and ethically acceptable values and orders.
To conclude, as I've already mentioned above, Madeline is Roderick's double, she
is meant to speak out his deepest thoughts, his most hidden desires, she anticipates his actions
and acts in his place, like a marionette, but without being maneuvered from behind the
curtains. Being his trustful double, Madeline represents his fears and only these fears manage
to kill him in the end as Madeline kills Roderick at the end of the story. In a nutshell, nothing
aches us more than our own fears, our own state of solitude and isolation when we feel like
nothing goes right in the world and we are surrounded only by this sinful state of anxiety and
agony that will only bring us the inevitable death, only through death can we conquer our
fears if we let them overwhelm us, this is actually the price Roderick had to pay.