The Narrator arrives at the House of Usher in order to visit a friend.While the relationship between him and Roderick is never fully explained, the reader does learn that they were boyhood friends."If ever mortal painted an idea," he proposes, "that mortal was Roderick Usher." Insofar as art might be deemed a stab at immortality, the death-obsessed Usher, so certain of his own demise, strives to cling to time itself by producing works which can last beyond him.
The plot of Poe's tale essentially involves a woman who dies, is buried, and rises from the grave. Near the horrific finale of the tale, Usher screams: "We have put her living in the tomb!
" Premature burial was something of an obsession for Poe, who featured it in many of his stories.
As a result, the line between sanity and insanity becomes blurred, which paves the way for the Narrator's own descent into madness.
If we were to try to define Roderick Usher's illness precisely, we might diagnose him with acute anxiety. "To an anomalous species of terror," Poe writes, "I found him a bounden slave." Usher tries to explain to the Narrator that he dreads "the events of the future, not in themselves but in their results." He dreads the intangible and the unknowable; he fears precisely what cannot be rationally feared.
But a more realistic version of events suggests that she may have been mistaken for dead--and luckily managed to escape her tomb.
Either way, the line between life and death is a fine one in Poe's fiction, and Usher's study of the "sentience of all vegetable things" fits aptly with Poe's own preoccupations.Without spouses they live together in the great family home, each of them wasting away within the building's dark rooms.The Narrator describes the strange qualities of the Usher family--that it never has put forth "any enduring branch," that "the entire family lay in the direct line of descent." The implication is that incest is the norm for the Ushers, and that Roderick's and Madeline's strange illnesses may stem from their inbred genes.What Poe has constructed therefore is a kind of (story-within-a-story)--tombs being represented within tombs.The implication, especially once the entire House of Usher sinks into a new grave below the tarn, is that the world itself is a kind of crypt.This philosophy of “art for art’s sake” later evolved into the literary movement of Aestheticism which eschewed the symbolic and preachy literature of the day—especially in England—in an attempt to overcome strict Victorian conventions.Because of his emphasis on style and language, Poe proclaimed his writing a reaction to typical literature of the day, which he called “the heresy of the Didactic” for its tendency to preach.Despite (or because) of his madness, Usher is skilled at music and apparently is quite a painter.The Narrator compares Roderick's "phantasmagoric conceptions" to those of a real artist, Fuseli, and the Narrator seems both entranced and terrified by them.In other words, the Narrator seems to remove himself spiritually from Usher, terrified of his house, his illness, his appearance, but as the narrative progresses he cannot help but be drawn into Usher's twisted world.Alas, family (if not incest) trumps friendship at the end, when Usher and Madeline are reunited and the Narrator is cast off on his own into the raging storm.