History: this short story was first published September 1839 in Burton's Gentleman's Magazine.
Plot: The tale opens with the unnamed narrator arriving at the house of his friend, Roderick Usher, having received a letter from him in a distant part of the country complaining of an illness and asking for his comfort. It is revealed that Roderick's twin sister, Madeline, is also ill and falls into cataleptic, death-like trances. The narrator is impressed with Roderick's paintings, and attempts to cheer him by reading with him and listening to his improvised musical compositions on the guitar. Roderick sings "The Haunted Palace", then tells the narrator that he believes the house he lives in to be sentient, and that this sentience arises from the arrangement of the masonry and vegetation surrounding it. Roderick later informs the narrator that his sister has died and insists that she be entombed for two weeks in a vault in the house before being permanently buried. They inter her, but over the next week both Roderick and the narrator find themselves becoming increasingly agitated for no apparent reason. A storm begins. Roderick comes to the narrator's bedroom, which is situated directly above the vault, and throws open his window to the storm. He notices that the tarn surrounding the house seems to glow in the dark, as it glowed in Roderick Usher's paintings, although there is no lightning.
The narrator attempts to calm Roderick by reading aloud The Mad Trist, a novel involving a knight named Ethelred. As the narrator reads of the knight's forcible entry into the dwelling, cracking and ripping sounds are heard somewhere in the house. When the knight kills the dragon, described as shrieking as it dies, a shriek is heard, again within the house. As he relates the knights shield falling from off the wall, a reverberation, metallic and hollow, can be heard. Roderick becomes increasingly hysterical, and eventually exclaims that these sounds are being made by his sister, who was in fact alive when she was entombed and that Roderick knew that she was alive. The bedroom door is then blown open to reveal Madeline standing there. She falls violently in death upon her brother, who dies of his own terror. The narrator then flees the house, and, as he does so, notices a flash of light causing him to look back upon the House of Usher, in time to watch it break in two, the fragments sinking into the tarn.
Review: Poe's intention when writing The Fall of the House of Usher was not to present a moral, lesson, or truth to the reader; he was simply trying to bring forth a sense of terror to the reader. The book also shows Poe's ability to create an emotional tone in his work, specifically feelings of fear, doom, and guilt.
Opening Line: “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and that length found my self, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”
Closing Line: “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."
Quotes: “I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect - in terror.”