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The Fall of the House of Usher Commonlit Answers

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  • 12th Grade
  • Lexile: 1410

Source: The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

Assessment Answers

Reread the introduction of the story. How does the imagery depicted in the beginning of the story contribute to, or set up, the story? Consider what the house symbolizes.

The introduction of “The Fall of the House of Usher” sets a vivid and haunting scene that is crucial in establishing the tone and thematic concerns of the story. From the outset, Edgar Allan Poe uses rich, dark imagery to create an atmosphere of gloom and foreboding.

The narrator describes his approach to the House of Usher during “a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year,” with clouds hanging “oppressively low in the heavens.” This atmospheric setting evokes a sense of unease and anticipation in the reader, signaling that the story will delve into the macabre or the supernatural.

The description of the house itself is laden with symbolism that foreshadows the story’s exploration of decay, both physical and psychological.

The house is depicted as an ancient and decaying structure, with “vacant eye-like windows” and a “black and lurid tarn” that reflects it. This imagery suggests not just physical decay but also a deeper, more sinister malaise.

In its dilapidated state, the house symbolizes the declining mental and physical health of its inhabitants, Roderick and Madeline Usher. The tarn that mirrors the house can be seen as a metaphor for the characters’ introspection or the distorted reflection of their souls.

Moreover, the house’s description as evoking an “utter depression of soul” in the narrator underscores the theme of psychological horror and the influence of the environment on the human psyche.

The oppressive atmosphere of the house and its surroundings sets up a story that is as much about the internal collapse of the characters as it is about the physical collapse of their ancestral home.

In summary, the imagery at the beginning of “The Fall of the House of Usher” not only establishes a mood of dread and melancholy but also introduces key themes of decay, the blurred line between the psychological and the physical, and the impact of the past on the present.

The house itself, with its eerie and dilapidated appearance, symbolizes the degeneration of the Usher family and foreshadows the story’s exploration of their downfall.

QuestionAnswer
Which of the following best identifies a theme in the text?the power of death over life
PART A: What does the term “similitude” most likely mean, as used in paragraph 23?physical resemblance
PART B: Which phrase from the paragraph best supports the answer to Part A?“the deceased and himself had been twins”
Which of the following statements best summarizes then relationship between the family and the literal House of Usher?“Like the dying twins, both the family and the house are falling into ruin.”
What do the reactions to Sir Launcelot’s “Mad Trist” reveal about the narrator’s and Roderick’s different points of view in the passage?The narrator brushes off the noise of Madeline’s escape as coincidence when matching Ethelred’s situation, showing his engrossment in fiction whereas Roderick is all too present in reality, despite his madness.
How are the details of both Roderick’s and Madeline’s illnesses important to the development of the plot?Madeline’s cataleptic condition leads to her early burial, while Roderick’s heightened senses force him to hear her struggle to break out of the tomb, driving him mad.

In “The Fall of the House of Usher” Poe includes a set of verses written by Roderick. How does this poem contribute to the story’s theme – do they share any similarities?

The poem included by Poe in “The Fall of the House of Usher,” often referred to as “The Haunted Palace,” significantly contributes to the overarching themes of the story and shares deep similarities with the narrative itself.

This poem serves as a metaphorical reflection of the Usher family’s decline and the decaying state of the Usher mansion, encapsulating themes of decay, madness, and the fall from a once-glorious state.

Similarities and Contributions to the Theme:

  1. Decline and Decay: The poem describes a beautiful and vibrant palace that gradually becomes dark, evil, and haunted. This mirrors the Usher mansion, which was once noble and grand but has now fallen into physical and metaphorical decay. The transition from beauty to horror in the poem parallels the overarching theme of decline present in the story.
  2. Madness and Mental Deterioration: The transformation of the palace into a place of madness where “evil things, in robes of sorrow, Assailed the monarch’s high estate” can be seen as a reflection of Roderick Usher’s mental state. Roderick’s acute sensitivity and his descent into madness are mirrored by the palace’s shift from a site of wisdom and beauty to one of horror and insanity.
  3. Supernatural Elements: Both the poem and the story imbue the settings—the palace and the house, respectively—with a sense of sentient presence and supernatural influence. The palace is described as if it has its own life, much like the Usher mansion, which seems to exert a malevolent influence over its inhabitants.
  4. Isolation: The poem’s palace, standing in a valley, initially “reared its head” in glory but later becomes isolated, surrounded by evil and sorrow. This isolation reflects the Usher family’s condition, cut off from the world and trapped within their ancestral home, leading to their inevitable downfall.
  5. The Fall: The title of the poem, “The Haunted Palace,” and its narrative arc from splendor to desolation support the central theme of “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Both the physical and metaphorical fall of the house and the family it represents are foreshadowed by the poem’s depiction of the palace’s decline.

By incorporating “The Haunted Palace” into the story, Poe uses the poem as a thematic and symbolic echo of the Usher family’s tragic story. It reinforces the motifs of decay, the impact of the past, and the inescapable descent into madness and ruin, thereby enriching the reader’s understanding of the story’s deeper meanings.

Discussion Answers

What was ultimately responsible for the fall of the House of Usher? Consider what Poe may be trying to communicate about family lineages and possibly landed-nobility. Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.

The fall of the House of Usher can be attributed to multiple interwoven factors, both literal and metaphorical, that Poe masterfully presents to communicate broader themes regarding family lineages, the decline of landed nobility, and the inescapable nature of familial and personal decay.

Through the story, Poe seems to be commenting on the inevitable decline of families burdened by their past and isolated from the world, a theme that resonates with broader societal changes and critiques of aristocracy.

1. Interwoven Illnesses and the Family Curse: The physical and mental illnesses of Roderick and Madeline Usher are central to the narrative, symbolizing the decay of their family line. Roderick’s acute sensitivity and Madeline’s cataleptic condition, which leads to her being buried alive, reflect the degenerative impact of their lineage’s isolation and possible inbreeding. This is emblematic of Poe’s critique of the aristocracy’s insularity and its detrimental effects, suggesting that the isolation and purity sought by noble families can lead to their downfall.

2. The Sentience of the House: Poe imbues the Usher mansion with life-like qualities, suggesting that it shares a supernatural connection with the Usher family. The house’s eventual collapse alongside the deaths of Roderick and Madeline signifies the end of the family line and the physical manifestation of their familial curse. This can be interpreted as a metaphor for the unsustainable nature of the aristocratic family’s legacy, which, built on isolation and decay, cannot stand the test of time.

3. Themes in Literature and Art: The theme of noble families’ decline is not unique to Poe but is a prevalent theme in literature and art. For example, in William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” the decline of Emily Grierson and her family mirrors the decay of Southern aristocracy after the Civil War.
Similarly, in many Gothic novels, such as Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” or Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” noble families harbor dark secrets that lead to their downfall, reflecting concerns about the morality and sustainability of aristocratic isolation and power.

4. Historical Context: Poe’s story resonates with the historical decline of landed nobility, especially relevant in the 19th century as industrialization and democratic ideals challenged traditional aristocratic values and power. The fall of the House of Usher can be seen as an allegory for the fall of the old aristocracy, unable to adapt to a changing world and burdened by its own insular practices and degeneration.

The fall of the House of Usher is ultimately a complex interplay of familial illness, psychological torment, and supernatural elements that Poe uses to critique the decay inherent in isolated, aristocratic family lines.

Through this story, Poe communicates the idea that the insularity and corruption of such families lead to their inevitable downfall, a theme that finds echoes in historical shifts away from aristocratic dominance and in other literary works exploring similar themes of decay and obsolescence.


In the context of this story, how do people face death? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.

In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” characters face death with a mixture of denial, fear, and inevitability, reflecting broader human attitudes toward mortality. Edgar Allan Poe explores these themes through the story’s atmosphere, the characters’ actions, and the eventual collapse of the house itself, serving as a metaphor for the finality of death and the decay of legacy.

1. Denial and Avoidance: Roderick Usher exhibits a form of denial about death, particularly seen in his attempt to bury his sister Madeline prematurely, possibly to avoid facing her death directly. This act can be interpreted as an attempt to control or deny the inevitable. This denial mirrors a common human reaction to death, avoiding its reality until it confronts us unavoidably.

Similarly, in other literature, such as Thomas Hardy’s “The Mayor of Casterbridge,” characters often attempt to escape or deny their past actions or the inevitability of their fate, only to be confronted with it more forcefully.

2. Fear and Dread: Roderick’s hypersensitivity and his anticipation of Madeline’s return from the grave reflect a deep fear and dread of death. His acute anxiety and terror in the face of his sister’s supposed death and his predictions about his own demise demonstrate the overwhelming fear that death can instill.

This fear of death and what lies beyond is a theme explored in many works of literature and art, such as the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, whose depictions of the afterlife convey the deep anxieties and dread surrounding death and judgment.

3. Inevitability and Acceptance: The eventual collapse of the House of Usher symbolizes the inevitability of death and the end of the family line. Despite the characters’ fears and attempts at denial, death proves to be inescapable.
This theme of inevitability is echoed in the history and literature of the Romantic and Gothic periods, where the sublime power of nature and the inevitability of death were often juxtaposed against human efforts to overcome them. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” explores the consequences of man’s attempt to conquer death, ultimately highlighting its inevitability and the natural order.

From a personal perspective, individuals face death in varied ways, influenced by cultural, religious, and individual beliefs.

Historical attitudes towards death have also evolved, from the elaborate funerary rites of the ancient Egyptians, who believed in an afterlife, to the more stoic acceptance of death found in Stoicism, emphasizing the natural cycle of life and death.

In art, the theme of memento mori has been used to remind people of the inevitability of death and the importance of living a moral life. This theme is prevalent in the works of artists like Albrecht Dürer and reminds viewers of the transient nature of life.

In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe encapsulates the complex human emotions and reactions to death—denial, fear, and eventual acceptance of its inevitability.

Through the story’s Gothic elements, Poe explores these themes in a manner that resonates with broader human experiences and cultural expressions of death, underscoring the universal challenge of facing our mortality.


In the context of this story, how does fear drive action? Discuss the consequences of Roderick’s fear and paranoia. Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.

In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” fear is a potent force that drives the actions of its characters, particularly Roderick Usher, leading to dire consequences. Roderick’s fear and paranoia shape the narrative, demonstrating how fear can distort perception, influence decisions, and ultimately lead to self-fulfilling prophecies of doom.

1. Paralysis and Isolation: Roderick’s fear manifests in a paralyzing sensitivity to his environment, isolating him within the decaying walls of his ancestral home. This isolation is both a cause and effect of his fear, creating a cycle that exacerbates his condition. In literature, this theme of fear leading to isolation is also explored in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” where the protagonist’s fear and subsequent madness result in her complete isolation, highlighting the destructive power of fear on the psyche.

2. Premature Burial of Madeline: One of the most consequential actions driven by Roderick’s fear is the premature burial of his sister Madeline. His paranoia about death and disease leads him to entomb her while she is still alive, a decision that ultimately results in his own demise. This act reflects a broader theme in Gothic literature of fear leading to irrational and disastrous decisions.
For instance, in Edgar Allan Poe’s own “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the narrator’s fear and guilt drive him to confess to a murder he might have otherwise concealed, illustrating how fear can compel individuals to act against their self-interest.

3. Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Doom: Roderick’s pervasive dread about the fate of his house and family culminates in a self-fulfilling prophecy. His anticipation of catastrophe contributes to the outcome he fears, demonstrating how fear can attract the events one wishes to avoid.
This idea is mirrored in historical contexts as well, such as the Red Scare in the United States, where fear of communism led to a series of actions that compromised civil liberties and fueled paranoia, showing how societal fears can lead to destructive outcomes.

Personal and Artistic Reflections: On a personal level, fear can drive actions that range from avoidance to confrontation, often with mixed outcomes. In the realm of art and history, the impact of fear has been a catalyst for both creation and destruction.

For example, during the Renaissance, fear of the unknown drove explorers to discover new lands, while in the Cold War era, fear of nuclear annihilation led to the arms race and heightened international tensions.

In “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe masterfully explores the theme of fear as a driving force behind action. Roderick Usher’s fear and paranoia not only isolate him but also lead to the premature burial of his sister and ultimately to his own death, serving as a cautionary tale about the power of fear to shape reality.

This theme resonates across literature, art, and history, revealing fear’s profound impact on individual and collective behavior, often with irreversible consequences.

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