During the middle of the 19th century, American authors would write stories to
reveal personal or inner struggles of individuals; this is shown through Edgar Allen
Poe's short story, "The Fall of the House of Usher," and Nathaniel Hawthorne's
novel "The Scarlet Letter."
The first piece of literature that proves a better understanding of individual
conflicts and interactions during the 1830s-50s is Edgar Allen Poe’s short story,
“The Fall of the House of Usher.” The story has immensely descriptive imagery
and thoughts expressed by the narrator that better solidifies its message to the
reader. An example of this is how the narrator describes the house itself telling
the reader that
“I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere
house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—upon the
bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank
sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees—with an utter
depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more
properly than to the after-dream of the reveler upon opium—the bitter
lapse into every-day life—the hideous dropping off of the veil,” (Poe 1).
The description of the dilapidated house is designed to make the
reader uneasy about what is going to happen as the story
progresses. This air of apprehension was deliberately made by Poe to
further encapsulate the message of the inevitability of death. It is only a
matter of time before the house, a personified version of the entire Usher
race, finally dies, and the idea of prolonging something, such as the house
of Usher, will only cause it to distort and become horrifying until death
once again comes for it. This theme, however, is much less potent if the
story is about more than a few characters. If this was a community, each
person's opinion would be much less effective instead of one person
describing and telling things.
The personal connection between the narrator and Rodrick Usher is
important in this story too, and their interactions and his description of his
friend push another theme, one of isolation. When the narrator first meets
Rodrick after making it through the house, he describes him to the reader
“A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous
beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid
but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew
model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely
molded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral
energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity;—these features,
with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made
up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten,” (Poe 4).
He also speaks of his high sensitivity to many noises, except for more
strange sounds like stringed instruments, and his extreme cordiality that
he showed when they met again. His illness makes him thin and pale, but
some of the more awe striking features like his luminous eye still persists.
This all changes with the entombment of
Madeline, Rodrick’s twin sister. Rodrick’s appearance and
personality declines rapidly as the narrator tries to comfort him with
activities; Usher’s manner had evaporated, he seemed to be mindless, his
appearance became more ghastly, as his luminous eye dimmed.
All of this shows the consequences to isolation, as Usher refuses to cope
with Madeline’s “death” he becomes isolated and insane. None of this
detail and message could have been made clear if the lens wasn’t made
to reflect individual people.