Being stuck in a nightmare is like being stuck in the darkest corners of one’s own mind. Trapped with strange images, and shadowy creatures, this horrific scene is so realistic, that one believes it is actually happening. This is when people are faced with what they fear most. When people dream, their unconscious mind pulls out all the thoughts and images that were being suppressed, and turns them into a whirlwind of terrifying events. Edgar Allan Poe‘s apparent focus on the "gruesome and grotesque, the melodramatic and the bizarre," (Carlson 1), derives from the dream world. His stories seem so dreadfully realistic because he would have horrible nightmares of his own, and get up and write down everything he could remember. By turning his dreams into stories they are able to delve into the human psyche revealing information about the structure of the human mind. For example in The Fall of the House of Usher, Poe journeys into the depth of the mind, examining it’s construction and the struggle between life and reason, and death and madness; using symbols to illustrate different characteristics of the human mind.
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Poe uses ideas from his own nightmares and distorted mind to create his horror stories.
Often, due to this, the narrator greatly reflects Poe himself. What we see through these narrators is that Poe is greatly interested in the inter-workings of the mind. "He is absolutely concerned with the disintegration-process of his own psyche" (Carlson 24). This supplies readers with information on his ideas about the brain and human behavior, thus these stories become more than horror stories. They expand to a morbid dissection of the psychology of people. Poe uses examinations of the mind, and the strange things that can occur to it to create fear. This fear is achieved by introducing minds with psychological problems, mental disturbances, or uncontrollable desires. "Poe’s tales are always concrete representations of states of mind" (Carlson 85), yet usually they represent bizarre states of mind, that most people do not even acknowledge that they exist. Readers are forced to help examine these indifferent minds because they have an internal yearning for reasons as to why the characters are compelled to act as they do. "The center of interest in these stories is not simply the emotion of horror but the irrational state of mind, terrified at itself, yet oddly prolific,"(Carlson 64). Poe presents irrational minds to show that the mind is very complex and constantly struggling between at least two counterparts at any given time. If a middle ground cannot be found, the human mind is sure to suffer psychological problems.
Two situations in which we can see the characters in The Fall of The House of Usher dealing with a psychological conflict, are the struggles between death and madness and life and reason. Usher is in shambles in this story. He says he is incurably sickened with a family disease where his senses are painfully over-sensitive. His brain is no longer functioning logically. He also knows that his twin sister will die before him, but does not know how he will be able to go on after that. Usher also knows that when that happens he will be closer to the escape and release of this half-reality that he is stuck living in. If he does not seek death, he will continue to grow mad. The only reason he can see is that death is a way out, yet he is still greatly scared of what that means. "Usher simultaneously exploits and loathes his disease, he longs for death and fears it- longs for the state of "real dream" to which he tends and fears the annihilation which that entails," (Carlson 71). Usher longs for his death just as he secretly longs for the death of his sister, yet he is unsure of what will happen to them when that does occur. One thing that we are sure of is that death cannot be avoided. ". . . death is implicit, in the crumbling house and deranged mind of the Ushers. Poe associates death, the opposite of life, with the inverted world, the opposite of reason,"(Carlson 71), which is an exact representation of what Usher is struggling with internally. Poe uses this story and his characters to show the struggles that the mind faces. He also uses distinct symbols to portray different parts of the mind.
"The Fall of the House of Usher results not only from the conventional Gothic horrors of the actions, but also from the reiteration of symbols which suggest the struggle between life and reason, and death and madness"(Carlson 51). One of these symbols that Poe uses in his stories that is especially prevalent in The Fall of the House of Usher is the underlying brother-sister love. Usher doesn’t know what he will do when his sister dies, but underneath it seems that he wants her to. He is crazy because of her, only because he is crazy for her. "In psychoanalysis almost every trouble in the psyche is traced to an incest-desire," (Carlson 27). This desire inside of him drives him absolutely crazy, and says they are both doomed because of their destined family "illness". He goes so absolutely insane, and wants to end the insanity so bad, he ends up trying to kill his sister. He has become so crazy he actually believes that she died naturally. "This is the same old theme of "each man kills the thing he loves." He knew his love had killed her," (Carlson 29). Usher attempts to kill his love because he knows that it is wrong, but ironically it never dies because she does not really die, until they go down together.
Another example that critics claim Poe uses to explain the mind, is the twin factor in this story. Usher and his sister are in fact twins and Poe uses each to portray a certain half of the mind, supporting this by the idea that twins minds are seemly strongly connected. "Usher represents the mind or intellectual aspect of the total being. Madeline is the sensual or physical side of this psyche," (Carlson 85). Usher’s mind has been completely flooded by the thought of his "disease" and the love he has for his sister, that he is almost gone completely mad. Thus he lives in an unrealistic world, with an unnatural state of mind. Meaning, his part of the mind no longer properly functions, and his only connection with the physical world and state of mind, is through his sister. He does not in any want to be reunited with this world. Usher wants to continue to function in his own world and state of mind. " . . . the physical world, and even the physical side of himself, fills him with such repugnance that he can maintain his unique world or self of the mind only by destroying his twin sister or the physical side of himself," ( Carlson 86). Yet he fails in destroying this side because they are a part of each other. If one dies so does the other. That is why Usher cannot kill Madeline, and they end up dying together.
Out of all the allegories used by Poe, the most predominant must be the relationship of the decaying House of Usher, and Usher’s mind itself. Just as Poe uses Madeline and Usher to show how Usher is dying to escape the physical world, "decay in Poe is a symbol of visionary remoteness from the physical," (Carlson 94). The decaying of everything physical around Usher shows how the physical part of his mind and everything that was once "real" to him is no longer important in his world. "Throughout the story, Usher, like the house, is "falling"; he exists in a kind of suspended motion between the perception of "simple natural object’s and the neurotic perception of an aberrant world,"(Carlson 70). Thus it is as though he is stuck in a dream world. Usher and his family have known nothing but that house, and as it continues to digress and decay so does Usher’s life. Usher’s mind wants to only sink deeper into his dream world, and divide itself further from anything physical. The house is never repaired or discussed with concern, it is just accepted like it is going through a natural unavoidable process just lie Usher accepts his disease.
Through all of these examples in this outstanding story, Poe reveals to his readers his insights about the psychology of the mind. The Fall of the House of Usher becomes so much more than a creepy story because of this. It is so scary to most, because it shows how some states of mind become uncontrollable and may completely take over oneself. "In The Fall of the House of Usher we have an early exposition, and one of the best, of this psychic drama, a summary of Poe’s ideas and method of investigating the self in disintegration. The story was a study of the tripartite division and identity of the self," (Carlson, 84). Poe is so extraordinary in his use of symbols to portray the mind, that he shows how characters become so much more than just that. Poe’s characters become intriguing individuals that he uses to dissect the human psyche and reveal to his readers anything that he may discover.
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