Psycho-Sexual Reading of The Fall of the House of Usher Essay

Psycho-Sexual Reading of The Fall of the House of Usher Essay

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Psycho-Sexual Reading of The Fall of the House of Usher

 
    The idea that "The Fall of the House of Usher" is in part an investigation into sexual motivation and sexual guilt complexes has often been hinted at but never critically pursued as the dominant theme in the tale. But such a reading is at least prepared for in important essays by D. H. Lawrence and Allen Tate which make the essential recognition that "The Fall of the House of Usher" is a "love" story (1). Lawrence and Tate, however, mistakenly attempt to purge the love concerned of all physical meaning. What they see Usher wanting is possession not of Madeline's body but her very being (Lawrence, p. 86). Theirs is essentially an anti-biological reading of the tale in which the Poe hero tries in self-love "to turn the soul of the heroine into something like a physical object which can be known in direct cognition" (fate, p. 115). But if "The Fall of the House of Usher" is a drama of cognition, its cognitive impact is not circumscribed by "metaphysical speculation on the identity of matter and spirit" (2).

 

In this connection, Patrick F. Quinn's suggestion that Usher is a criminal merits attention (3). He is, in a biological reading of the story, a sexual criminal, and a critic like Richard Wilbur, who suggests that the poetic soul is out to "shake off this temporal, rational, physical world and escape . . . to a realm of unfettered vision," lifts us out of rather than urges us into the depths which humanity in the person of Usher has touched (4). Caroline Gordon and Allen Tate are closer to the truth when they call [column 2:] Usher "a 'Gothic' character taken seriously" and when they view "The Fall of the House of Usher" as "a serious story of moral perv...


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(5) Caroline Gordon and Allen Tate, The Ho?`se of Fiction (New York: Scribner's, 1960), p. 53.

(6) See Albert Mordell's comment on the tale and Usher in The Erotic Motive in Literature, rev. ed. (New York: Collier Books, 1962), p. 173: "As we learn from psycho-analysis, morbid fear is inhibited sexual desire; it is reaction against the libido." [column 2:]

(7) The editors of The Literature of The United States (Chicago: Scott-Foresman, 1949), p. 317, note 17, favor the more familiar explanation which links the doctor with a gang of body-snatchers. Thus Usher chooses to entomb his sister in the vaults of the house rather than in the family graveyard.

(8) Darrel Abel, "A Key to The House of Usher," rpt. in Interpretations of American Literature, ed. Charles Feidelson, Jr. and Paul Brodtkorb, Jr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 53.

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