A question and an answer based on an extract from The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

Read the following paragraphs which appear at the end of the story The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, and answer the question that follows.

“Not hear it? –yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long –long –long –many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it –yet I dared not –oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am! –I dared not –I dared not speak! We have put her living in the tomb! Said I not that my senses were acute? I now tell you that I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I heard them –many, many days ago –yet I dared not –I dared not speak! And now –to-night –Ethelred –ha! ha! –the breaking of the hermit’s door, and the death-cry of the dragon, and the clangour of the shield! –say, rather, the rending of her coffin, and the grating of the iron hinges of her prison, and her struggles within the coppered archway of the vault! Oh whither shall I fly? Will she not be here anon? Is she not hurrying to upbraid me for my haste? Have I not heard her footstep on the stair? Do I not distinguish that heavy and horrible beating of her heart? MADMAN!” here he sprang furiously to his feet, and shrieked out his syllables, as if in the effort he were giving up his soul –“MADMAN! I TELL YOU THAT SHE NOW STANDS WITHOUT THE DOOR!”

As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there had been found the potency of a spell –the huge antique panels to which the speaker pointed, threw slowly back, upon the instant, ponderous and ebony jaws. It was the work of the rushing gust –but then without those doors there DID stand the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline of Usher. There was blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold, then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.

From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon which now shone vividly through that once barely-discernible fissure of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zig-zag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened –there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind –the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight –my brain reeled as 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 dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “HOUSE OF USHER.”

How far does Poe successfully tie almost all the loose ends of the story at this point but leaves some questions unanswered for the reader to ponder on?

In these three paragraphs, noted for their fast pace and quick action which are in contrast with the tone of the story in general, Poe ties up the loose strings and purposely leaves a few questions unaswered. Each of these paragraphs has a surprise which had already been foreshadowed in the story in different ways. In the first paragraph, we hear Roderick losing his control over himself and being very open to what was happening to him and his sister.

“Not hear it? –yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long –long –long –many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it –yet I dared not –oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am! –I dared not –I dared not speak! We have put her living in the tomb!

He even admits that she was still alive when they buried her and he had known for days that she was alive inside her coffin. In the next paragaraph we see Madeline in vigorous action for the first time.

…the huge antique panels to which the speaker pointed, threw slowly back, upon the instant, ponderous and ebony jaws.

Till now she was as good as dead. She comes close to Roderick and dies with him. In the third paragraph we see how the narrator flees and the house collapses behind him.

While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened –there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind –the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight…

The language used in each case also is very peculiar to what is being said. The first paragraph has incoherent sentences and phrases which gives us the idea that Roderick might be either under the heavy effect of a drug or speaking in delirium from his sickness.

I heard them –many, many days ago –yet I dared not –I dared not speak! And now –to-night

He does not wait for an answer but goes on like in a rhetorical expression of his inner troubles. It is also in this paragraph that he referes to the story which the narrator had been telling him and suggests that the story was like a hypnotic suggestion by the narrator. The sick and the hallucinating see things. They see what they fear the most. Here, the narraor talks about

Ethelred –ha! ha! –the breaking of the hermit’s door, and the death-cry of the dragon, and the clangour of the shield!”

and it holds more than story telling or the distraught Roderick. He sees this story as a prediction and for him it comes true. He utters the word MADMAN twice but there is no telling whether he was calling himself a mad man or whether he meant the narrator. We stumble twice on a stone that we anticpate on our path. Poe uses the same principle here. He tells us in detail what has happened and suggests what might happen now.

Will she not be here anon? Is she not hurrying to upbraid me for my haste? Have I not heard her footstep on the stair?

Instead of this leading to an anti-climax, it only mounts the tension further, sicne what is suggested in something impossible and improbable.

Shocking us in the next paragraph, Poe shows us that it is the impossible that happens no matter how improbable it might sound to the reader.

Madeline’s arrival at the door and the change in weather are described in such a detail that there is no chance to take them as hallucinations any more.

For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold, then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother

Madeline’s resurrection is real and she has come to take her brother away. She can’t die alone. She was the one who got hurt but with blood all over her body, and with her intention to take Roderick away with her, she looks like a vampire now or even worse.

There was blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame

When the writer says that Roderick was “a victim to the terrors he had anticipated”, the same applies to the reader too as the narrator had hooked him for long with his story telling craft.

Though there is no exact direction to this place it is pretty clear that it exists beyong a deep tarn with black water in it. Once a man is inside it, he is charmed and he sees things. Thus the house also serves as a metaphor for the realm of story telling itself. Like closing a book, one only has to cross the old causeway and he is in the world of the mundane and the ordinary.

“for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me.”

This is exactly how we feel at the end of a story telling session. This is further accentuated when we read how the house too collapsed. The enchanting palce is dashed to the ground and we are back in the world of realities.

The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me.

It is as if the house and the siblings never existed. Coming at the end of an enchanting story, this even has an added effect on the reader. In the concluding paragraph, at least by comparison with the beginning of the story, the style is more lucid and easy flowing.

From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast

It is just like the words of Roderick in action. However, the second paragraph here still uses long sentences to slow down the pace so that the reader gets a fair share of concentration on the ghastly scene.

Thus, in every way we find that Poe has created a work of art in words. It has intrigued readers for generation and it will continue to do so like great works of art.

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