Mockery Of Transcendentalism In The Fall Of The House Of Usher Edgar Allan Poes Mockery of Transcendentalism in The Fall of the House of Usher Throughout the development of our culture there have been a large number of literary movements. From existentialism to naturalism, humanism to surrealism, they all play an important role in the development of the literature we read today. One important movement during the nineteenth century is known as the transcendentalist movement. Transcendentalism is a form of idealism. In philosophy and literature, it is the belief in a higher reality than that found in sense experience or in a higher kind of knowledge than that achieved by human reason. Nearly all transcendentalist doctrines stem from the division of reality into a realm of spirit and a realm of matter.
This movement influenced many great writers such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edgar Allan Poe. While Thoreau and Emerson upheld the beliefs of transcendentalism in nearly all of their works, Poe criticizes those beliefs. This is strongly displayed in his short story The Fall of the House of Usher. Poe mocks transcendentalism in many different ways throughout The Fall of the House of Usher. Rather than the traditional upward spiral, which is very characteristic of transcendentalism, Poe has a continual downward spiral throughout this work.
The mockery begins with the description of the house in the opening of the story, and is reflected in nearly every aspect surrounding the house and its occupants. Transcendentalists compose work containing bright colors and heavenly tones. They are optimistic and believe in living in the here and now. Poe ridicules this flowery aspect in the first sentence of the story. It opens in autumn during the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless daywhen the clouds hung oppressively low in the sky (Poe 95).
The gloomy setting is visible throughout the entire story. In the beginning the atmosphere and house are used to set the dreary tone. During the close of the work, a terrible storm surrounds the house. The narrator states that all terrestrial objects immediately around us, were glowing in the unnatural light of a faintly luminous and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation (108). Within the ending paragraph the full and blood-red moon is used to end the story with its perpetual gloom.
Not only is the atmosphere dreary, the actual house is full of despondent features. As the narrator approaches the house he feels a sense of insufferable gloom pervading [his] spirit(95). The term melancholy is used as an adjective to describe the house. The house is covered in fungi and the masonry is decaying. The windows are described as vacant and eye-like.
There is a barely visible fissure in the house that runs from top to bottom indicating that it is fated to fall. The house is sometimes referred to as being haunted. As the narrator lies in his bed one evening a feeling of nervousness overcomes his body. He believes that the environment of his room has a strong contribution to his uneasiness. The story states that the bewildering influence of the gloomy furniture of the room-of the dark and tattered draperies leads to the narrators sleepless night (107).
All of these features are contradictory to what transcendentalists would believe. The setting and house are described with a strong negative aspect that is not customary to transcendentalist works. Not only do the setting and the house exhibit mockery of transcendentalism, but the characters do as well. Each character has his/her own unique contribution to Poes ridicule of transcendentalism. Roderick Usher, the owner of the House of Usher, plays an important role throughout this work. Through his appearance and actions he is vital to the argument that Poe mocks transcendentalism.
Roderick is described as having lips somewhat thin and very pallid (99). He is said to have a ghastly pallor of the skin. He suffers from morbid acuteness of the senses (100). He suffers from a mental illness that will eventually lead to his death. He can only eat a small variety of foods, only wear certain textures of clothing, and flowers are seen as oppressive to him. The faintest of lights and nearly all sounds bother Roderick.
This lack of light is a direct attack on the transcendentalist tenet that light is more powerful than dark because one ray of light penetrates darkness. Roderick surrounds himself with sadness and gloom. Rodericks actions, as described by the narrator, are sometimes sullen. His voice is often described as having tremulous indecision (when the animal spirits seemed utterly in abeyance)(99). This statement shows Poes mockery of the transcendentalist belief that humans rise above the lower animalistic impulses of life.
Although in this specific instance Poe is saying that the animal spirits are turned off, it shows his belief that we do turn to those instincts at some point in our lives. Roderick finds comfort in the recitation of The Haunted Palace (103). This reading is thought to be a representation of the fall of thought. It is the fall of order to chaos, reason to madness. It is believed that Roderick finds his transcendental connection with the Oversoul but instead of brightness, he finds gloom with dreary colors such as gray, black and white. Madeline Usher, the twin sister of Roderick, is also a useful tool in Poes satire of transcendentalism.
While Roderick suffers from a mental illness, Madeline suffers from the physical counterpart of that illness. She has lost her contact with the physical world. She is a gradual wasting away of the person (101). Roderick paints Madeline in a vault, which locks her in and gives her no chance for her own ideas. This goes against the transcendentalist belief that being locked into the past is wrong. One should experience life each day; value the present and dont dwell on the past. Madeline supposedly dies within this work.
She is placed in her coffin and put into an underground vault. After many days, she arises from the dead during a terrible storm. There is blood on her garments, showing evidence of her struggle. She stands in front of her brother for a few minutes before she falls onto him. This scene is the last of the living Ushers.
This scene goes against transcendentalism in that it is full of darkness and despair. It emphasizes death, rather than life. The Usher family ceases to exist. The nameless narrator, while we know very little of him, helps to portray Poes disinclination towards this literary movement. The narrator goes back to a familiar childhood house, yet does not feel comfortable there.
The lack of familiarity and discomfort felt by the narrator contradict transcendentalist views of compassion and warmth. One of the major beliefs of the transcendentalists is not to dwell in the past. They believe you should value the present, the here and now. The narrator attempts to relive his childhood, going against that important tenant of transcendentalism. Roderick brings the narrator to the house in the hopes of cheering him up but, in reality, the narrator attempts to change Rodericks life.
The narrator meddles with Rodericks soul, contracting accepted transcendentalist beliefs that reform must not be emphasized. Transcendentalists believe that change must come from within, therefore any effort from an external source to change someone will be proven fruitless. Both Roderick and Madeline Usher differ from transcendentalist beliefs with their disintegration of the body and mind, instead of a rebirth of the body and mind. One of the transcendentalists strongest beliefs is that more important than a concern about the afterlife, should be a concern for this life. Death is never to be feared.
Poe directly attacks this belief. The theme of The Fall of the House of Usher is that humans share a universal fear of death. This is displayed directly through Roderick and somewhat indirectly through the narrator. Poe emphasizes that nothing in life will escape time, death, or decay. English Essays.