The Fall of the House of Usher Theme Analysis

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The Fall of the House of Usher Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

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Activity Overview


Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the story, and support their choices with details from the text.


Themes and Ideas to Discuss

Terror

The terror arises not only on the part of the reader through the creepiness of the setting, the state of Usher, and the ghastly sounds coming from the vaults; it also comes from Usher’s realization that he probably buried his sister alive. As she appears in the doorway in the middle of a horrific storm, covered in blood and in her final gasps, the narrator, now terrified by what he has just witnessed, runs outside only to see the entire house break and fall into the tarn. The fact that his friend and his sister are dead are bad enough; the house is clearly connected to them and they to the house, and once this connection is broken, the narrator bears witness to its utter destruction.


Death

Death is a popular theme found in many of Poe’s works. Poe first explores an almost Romeo and Juliet-like moment when the narrator notices that Madeline is still flushed in death. This is a glaring hint for readers that Madeline might not, indeed, be dead, and that there may be consequences for burying her alive. Indeed, she escape, and uses her last bits of strength to find her brother and fall onto him. The sight of his sister, along with the weeks of emotional and mental unrest connected with her illness and the house, cause Usher to die as well. The house, connected to the last vestige of the Usher family, dies too, breaking down the crack on the exterior wall and falling into the tarn.


The Fragility of the Human Mind

An additional theme is the fragility of the human mind. Many have posited that this story reflects the interconnectedness of the human mind with the environment around it. Roderick, Madeline, and the family house all seem to have a connection with each other. As one gets more ill (Madeline), the others fall into similar states of disrepair. The human mind is also often affected by the people and settings around it. Other people and places have an impact on the mind’s mood, interpretations, and emotions. It often does not take much to crack, much like the crack that has appeared in outside wall of the House of Usher. Poe once said that his poem, "The Haunted Palace" that Roderick sings was meant to imply, "a mind haunted by phantoms - a disordered brain."


Motifs & Symbols to Look For

The Crack in the House

An important symbol is the crack in the exterior wall that the narrator notices upon his arrival at the house. This is often said to represent the crack in the foundation of the Usher family, which will come when death officially separates the twin heirs. The crack is what splits the entire house apart after their deaths, and what brings the house itself crumbling down into the tarn. The fall of the actual house is also the end of the Usher family line.


The Usher House

The house itself is also a symbol. The mansion is in a state of gloom. The windows resemble vacant eyes; the landscape is decaying; the whole scene gives the narrator a feeling of dread. The house reflects the imminent death of Madeline from a mysterious malady, and the state of her brother Roderick, who knows he is going to lose his twin sister and the last connection to their family.


"The Haunted Palace" Poem

The poem that Roderick Usher has written, titled "The Haunted Palace", recounts a king who once lived in a "fair and stately palace." Eventually, however, "evil things" assailed the estate, destroying it and the king, leaving only phantoms of happiness behind. Much like Roderick, his family, and the mansion were once proud and among the living, but they are being taken over now by the evil forces of death.



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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard depicting important themes, symbols, and motifs in "The Fall of the House of Usher".

  1. Use the template provided by your teacher.
  2. Identify important themes, symbols, and motifs.
  3. Describe how the theme, symbol, or motif is important to the story.
  4. Illustrate each example with appropriate images, scenes, characters, and items.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.
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