Character Analysis

 

Narrator

- Poe meticulously, from the opening paragraph through to the last, details the development of the narrator's initial uneasiness into a frenzy of terror, engendered by and parallel to Usher's terrors. (Wilbur p. 91)

- The narrator attributes his fantasy to his subjective perceptions. We the readers never do know what is real, what is a dream or the product of mutual hysteria. "Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building." (Selected Works p. 200)

- There is a split consciousness in the narrator's mind between the rational and supernatural. He sees a face in the tarn, a split fissure in the house and the double image of his own face superimposed on the death's head image of the house.

- Narrator admits to being a participant in Usher's hysteria: "Rationally Usher's condition terrified, it infected me... I felt creeping upon me, by slow yet uncertain degrees, the wild influence of his own fantastic yet impressive superstitions." (Selected Works p. 208).

- In contrast to Roderick, the narrator appears to be a man of common sense. He seems to have a good heart in that he comes to help a friend from his boyhood. He is also educated and analytical. He observes Usher and concludes that his friend has a mental disorder. He looks for natural scientific explanations for what Roderick senses. Criticizing Usher for his fantasies, the narrator claims that Roderick is "enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted" (Baym p. 668). The narrator's tone suggests that he cannot understand Usher. However, he himself is superstitious. When he looks upon the house, even before he met Roderick Usher, he observes "[t]here can be no doubt that the consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition" (Baym p. 665). The narrator also automatically turns away from an unpleasant truth by reasoning or by focusing on something else. When he and Roderick go down to bury Madeline, he speculates that she may not be completely dead yet. Studying her face, he notes "the mockery of faint blush upon the bosom and the face..." (p. 672). Yet, rather than mentioning his suspicion to his friend, he remains silent and continues the burial. Furthermore, when Roderick claims that there are ghosts in the house, the narrator feels fear too, but he dismisses Roderick's and his own fear by attributing them to a natural cause. He tells Roderick that "the appearances ...are merely...not uncommon" (674). In the end, this fear finally overcomes him. Although he had been able to suppress his fears all along, Lady Madeline's reappearance runs him out of the house.

 

Roderick Usher

Roderick Usher, the head of the house, is an educated man. He comes from a rather wealthy family and owns a huge library. He had once been an attractive man and "the character of his face had been at all times remarkable" (Baym p.667). However, his appearance deteriorated over time. Roderick had changed so much that "[the narrator] doubted to whom [he] spoke" (p. 667). Roderick's altered appearance probably was caused by his insanity. The narrator notes various symptoms of insanity from Roderick's behavior: "in the manner of my friend I was struck with an incoherence -- an inconsistency...habitual trepidancy, and excessive nervous agitation...His action was alternately vivacious and sullen. His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision...to that...of the lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium" (p. 667). These are "the features of the mental disorder of [the narrator's] friend" (p. 672). Roderick's state worsens throughout the story. He becomes increasingly restless and unstable, especially after the burial of his sister. He is not able to sleep and claims that he hears noises. All in all, he is an unbalanced man trying to maintain an equilibrium in his life.

 

Madeline Usher

Lady Madeline, twin sister of Roderick Usher, does not speak one word throughout the story. In fact, she is absent from most of the story, and she and the narrator do not stay together in the same room. At the narrator's arrival, she takes to her bed and falls into a catatonic state. He helps bury her and put her away in a vault, but when she reappears, he flees. Poe seems to present her as a ghostlike figure. Before she was buried, she roamed around the house quietly not noticing anything. According to the narrator, Lady Madeline "passed slowly through a remote portion of the apartment, and, without having noticed [his] presence, disappeared" (Baym p. 668). Overall, Madeline Usher appears to be completely overcome by mental disorder.

 

Character Summary

The three characters of course are unique people with distinct characters, but they are tied together by the same type of "mental disorder". All of them suffer from insanity, yet each responds differently. Lady Madeline seems to accept the fact that she is insane and continues her life with that knowledge. Roderick Usher appears to realize his mental state and struggles very hard to hold on to his sanity. The narrator, who is slowly but surely contracting the disease, wants to deny what he sees, hears, and senses. He, in the end, escapes from the illness because he flees from the house.

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