Dualism in Edgar Allen Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher"

Term Paper, 2013

10 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Dualism in Edgar Allen Poe‘s “The Fall of the House of Usher“

„I cannot understand the mystery, but I am always conscious of myself

as two“

Walt Whitman

In 19th century literature, whether it be prose or poetry, there is a central idea, a certain motif that can be found in many works - the concept of dualism. Many Victorians believed that there was an essential duality of life that was not only found in nature, but also constituted the very, dual nature of mankind. This concept has long before been discussed by the French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes who coined the term “Cartesian Dualism“, which approaches the idea that the self is divided into body and mind and that the two, while always conflicting, are intimately related (Skirry). In terms of literature, this conflict and idea of fragmentation of the human mind was often “expressed with the character‘s self-division or self- duplication“ (Krehl 1).

In this paper I will discuss the concept of dualism and the twin nature of existence in Edgar Allen Poe‘s The Fall of the House of Usher

(House of Usher) and its use to address the dual and conflicted nature of the self. I will also argue that through the use of opposites, mirror images, the doppelgänger motif, and the omnipresence of transitoriness in The House of Usher, Poe creates a story that obliterates the lines between the real and the surreal. The idea of duality will be amplified by discussing the dichotomy that Poe presents in the setting and the character relations of the story.

The transitoriness and first obvious contrast that is established in the story can be found in the first paragraphs that set the scene. The narrator steps into an almost apocalyptic scenery - a “dull, dark and soundless day...when clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens“ (Poe 199). He finds himself “as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.“ This part of the story is filled with motifs of transitoriness. First of all, the story is set in the fall, a time that rings in the end of the year - a time between summer an winter, similar to the twilight and the end of the day. Twilight is also what the narrator perceives as he approaches the House of Usher for the first time. While images of darkness and uncanny elements constitute many of Poe‘s short stories and poems, this particular setting in The House of Usher is not only of a descriptive importance, but also of a symbolic, for it foreshadows that the mansion and also the Usher family will be perished by the end of the story.

Everything about the Gothic house is eerie and makes the narrator feel uncomfortable: “There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart- an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no

goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime“ (199). It is not only the dead surroundings and the way the house, with its “eye-like windows“ (199), seems to stare down at the narrator and his horse - but also its dreadful and accurate reflection in the sedge that surrounds the Usher mansion. The insight into the narrator‘s thoughts makes us, as readers, feel the uncomfortableness, too, especially because the narrator is presented to us as a rational and sensible person that cannot rationally explain what it is about the house that makes it seem so mysterious and sinister (199).

Poe paints a picture of a living house that stands in great contrast to its decayed surroundings. Personifications, such as “eye- like windows“ and the vapor that later in the story is referred to as “exhalation“, as well as the fact that “minute fungi overspread the whole exterior [of the house], hanging in a fine web-work from the cave“ (Poe 201) underline the idea that the house seems to have living features and suggest that there is a strong contrast of life and death covering the framework of the story. “Such figures of speech associate the inorganic with the organic or even human worlds, and condition the reader to accept an even closer and closer relationship between the two“ (Robinson 70). Also, the almost invisible crack that runs down the masonry of the house suggests that the following story will be about a particular separation (Poe 202). Robinson also suggests that this diagonal crack signifies that the “order of the mansion still functions but obviously is threatened with instability and collapse“ (70).


Excerpt out of 10 pages


Dualism in Edgar Allen Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher"
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
403 KB
dualism, edgar, allen, fall, house, usher
Quote paper
Annemarie Falk (Author), 2013, Dualism in Edgar Allen Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/230687


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Dualism in Edgar Allen Poe's "Fall of the House of Usher"

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free