“…upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain — upon the bleak walls — upon the vacant eye-like windows — upon a few rank sedges — and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees — with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium — the bitter lapse into common life — the hideous dropping off of the veil” (Poe, 231).
One can see from the narrator’s description of the house that it represents the decay of life and the end of the Usher name. As one learns of Roderick’s troubles with his epileptic sister, the cracks in the house seems to make a lot of sense. The cracks symbolize the inevitable death of the house and of their lineage. ‘…a few white trunks of decayed trees…’ the sense of decay and death are foreshadowed by this description of the house, which ultimately establishes the theme of death and decay/insanity. Both these stories use symbolism represent and explain to the reader, the insanity and ultimately the death of the selected characters. Both stories rely on the insanity or decay of the characters to explain their respective deaths. In ‘The Black Cat’ the insanity/decay comes from the use of alcohol, which leads to the characters killing his cat and his wife. Similarly, in ‘The Fall of The House of Usher’ the illness of Roderick’s sister and his weak perception of reality unveil in the supposed death of Madeline and then his latter death by fear. In conclusion, the use of symbolism in these two stories is able to establish the similar theme of death by insanity.
Another very prominent and important comparison between these stories is the usage of diction to underline and emphasize the ideas of insanity and death within the two books. Poe carefully makes every word, every phrase, every sentence in the stories contribute to the overall effects, as well as supporting the dark mood and atmosphere, which both texts share. In ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ Poe opens the story with a very descriptive fragment that emphasized the atmosphere of the setting.
“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”(Poe, )
The usage of words such as “dull”, “dark”, “soundless”, “oppressively”, “dreary” and “melancholy” creates a gloomy image in our minds which initiates ideas of death. Similarly, when Poe describes Pluto’s attitude after the narrator removes its eye, he uses words such as “frightful,” “suffer,” “grieved.” (Poe, ) This choice of vocabulary invokes the reader to understand the pain Pluto is suffering, as well as outlining the insanity the narrator has. However, in the ‘The Black Cat’ the narrator is reflecting on his own actions as opposed to in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher,’ where the narrator is reflecting upon the general standing of the setting.
To conclude, the use of symbolism and diction is fundamental in establishing the theme of death through the insanity of the characters, as is present in Poe’s writing. Symbols such as alcohol and decay, and diction such as “dark” and “melancholy” are prevalent in both ‘The Black Cat’ and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher.’ Although they are used in different contexts, the main ideas are still underlined and emphasized through these two figurative language elements. The deaths in both the stories have great influences on the narrators, which is aided with insanity to create horror and decay in one’s life.