The Fall of the House of Usher

by Arthur Patterson

 

The following are presentation notes from December, 1996, when the Winnipeg Folio Club met to discuss this story.

 

Setting the Stage

In this part of the session, we attempt to set the mood and establish the main theme of the evening. Usually a Poe poem or a musical selection will be made. This is an extension of Poe's principle of Unity of Effect, and creates a receptivity in the hearers for what Poe has to say.

 

Biographic Context

It is helpful to connect the tale to the life setting of Edgar Allen Poe to see what was happening in his life at the time he wrote the story. A cholera epidemic, Poe's misanthropic temperament, Virginia's tuberculosis, a banking crisis--all of these historical facts weave their way into Poe's stories. Any possible source that may have motivated Poe's writing may be important for us to consider.

 

Criticism of Tale

What is the story about? According to Poe's aesthetic principle of unity of effect, description and details are not unimportant or merely mood creating but a part and parcel of the meaning of the tale. How is the story told? Any literary devices that pop out at you like irony or satire? Are there categories of tales within the whole of Poe's works that this particular tale seems to fit into? What world view informs the story? Is there a sense of providence? Why is Poe so morbid - what is he trying to accomplish? etc. What themes, techniques and symbols do you notice? What kind of characters?

 

Personal Connection

Do you feel drawn to the tale? Does it make you fearful or repulsed? Is there anything in your own life that illustrates what Poe was trying to get across? For instance, have you dreamt any similar situations or symbols that connect with the tale. Is there a warning in the tale that can be applied to your circumstance?

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