Self-determination within House of Usher - please help! : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

As part of my English course we are studying texts with regards to: paradigms; the poisition of the individual within social institutions; the conflict between the sense of self and social convention; and the individual as an agent for self-determination as portrayed within the text. I'm struggling with regards to Roderick's, Madeline's and the narrator's abilities to be self-determined - is it that none of them are in control of their lives? - and was wondering if somone could kindly add or shed some light on this for me.

Thanks in advance! Mic

-- Anonymous, May 26, 2002


Poe can be pessimistic. he had cause from his own experience. In his stories there is always a passionate revolt, sometimes successful as art and reason grapple with a trmendous dark oppression. Usher enlists the narrator in his efforts to create a world of art as a temporary escape. The doom is as certain as in the Pit and the Pendulum, but Usher struggles with part of his mind at least to keep reading that Gothic tale while Madeleine works her way up for their final disaster.

The women in Poe seem always to be pure victims. He never enters their mind or viewpoint. The narrator is an observer as someone who truly is not encompassed in the consuming identity of the "House" or Usher's mind. Had usher alone been telling the tale we would trapped within it too much to see the whole or trust Usher's words. You could call the narrator Ishmael, I suppose. In the end Usher, in mind health and fate, is totally determined as the end of his line. He does not think that the escape to his college days goes beyond his artistic antics within the rotting house.

Just some ideas.

-- Anonymous, May 26, 2002

While 'Usher' is an excellent text for studying self-determination, I am unconvinced that it will cast much light on 'social institutions'. It's all a question of genre, and this tale is (to a large degree) unproblematically gothic.

As a consequence, it does raise the issue of fate vs free will, but within a world of blood taints and the supernatural (or, at least, belief in the supernatural). Most obviously it is about the degenerate blood lines of European aristocratic 'houses'.

While this will have some resonance with early Republic issues to do with individual liberty and/or hierarchical society, it is more just a resonance than a commentary. The conventions of the gothic were worked out well before republican issues became topical and on a different continent. It would, therefore, be ahistoric within the terms of genre to see this story as commenting on Republican- Federalist debates of the early 19th C.

-- Anonymous, May 27, 2002

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