After not having seen each other for years Roderick asks his boyhood friend with heartfelt honestly to come stay at his house as a mean to comfort him during his illness. Roderick seems to be suffering from anxiety, hypochondria and hypersensitivity. Even though the friendship between the narrator and Usher was strong and long-lasting, the narrator knows close to nothing about the true character of Roderick Usher and even has to discover he has a twin sister, who is equally ill although suffering from catalepsy.
Several weeks later Madeline, Usher’s sister, has died and Roderick insists that she will be put in a tomb, in a vault in the house, for two weeks. Usher becomes weary and even more angst-filled than normal. On a night a heavy, loud storm begins which leaves both men awake. They come together and the narrator tries to soothe Usher‘s nerves by reading to him.
All sorts of noises are heard and Roderick seems to be losing his mind. Eventually he claims the sounds are made by Madeline and shouts out ‘I tell you that she now stands without the door!’ by which the doors fling open and, indeed, there stands Madeline, covered in blood. She falls upon her brother and they both die. The narrator flees the house and with the death of the twins the house breaks in two and sinks in the tarn.
(You can also read this story here. Which I highly recommend for my synopsis is quite dreadful!)
This is a wonderful story because of the great use of symbolism and language. Poe manages to create a very sensuous but macabre atmosphere by using precise words and detailed descriptions. He refers to future events in a most wonderful way, such as the short description of the fissure in the walls of the House of Usher which eventually leads to the house being cracked in two. The synchronisation of the story the narrator is reading to Usher and the sounds in the house etc. Etc. But what I really came to write about here, since it’s frustrating me immensely, is the interpretation of my literature professor of the bond between Madeline and Roderick. You see, he believes that the lines “[…] and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them.” refers, not to a spiritual bond, but to incest. He interprets this as a feeling of love that might or might not have been consummated (nevertheless there was a burning passion). Now! I tend to disagree! It would not surprise me that Poe might have meant this to be interpreted this way but I refuse to view this lovely story of unearthly mysticism this way! I quite like to think the relation between Madeline is of such devoted love to each other that it is completely intangible and incomprehensible for those who aren’t a twin that shares each other’s life. For Madeline and Roderick are one, that is true. It is because they are one person (Madeline is the body, Roderick the psyche) that they have a “scarcely intelligible” bond, not visceral love! But have this wonderful illustration by Beardsley instead of my frustrations:
“I listened as if in a dream.” by Aubrey Beardsley