Professor Kelly Martin
29 November 2005
Raymond Benoit begins with a literally philosophic approach to his analysis of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher.” He takes issue with Enlightenment philosophy by pointing out what he calls the “…philosopher’s temptation to take a purely spectator view of the mind, forgetting that he himself is a participant” (Benoit). The differences between the subjective and objective are minimized, mocked and compared to a man “…looking into the window of his own house to see whether he is home” (Benoit). Benoit’s commentary highlight the Romantic vs. Enlightenment values Poe presents not only in “Usher” but his other works as well. These esoteric observations explain how the narrator also looks inside the House of Usher to see himself. In Benoit’s interpretation, the narrator is describing his own state of mind when he describes the house as “bleak,” “vacant,” “rank,” “and “decayed” (Benoit).
This realization is not apparent to the narrator or the reader as Edgar Allen Poe crowds his descriptions with sensory detail. As a testament to this notion, Benoit cites the narrator’s certainty that “…the self is only a heap of perceptions” (Poe 1537). Furthermore, he explains how Poe’s “…insistence on external details…only underscores for the reader just how internal the narrator’s melancholy is” (Benoit). The objective is clouded by the subjective, like a cataracts blocking true vision. The author cleverly makes his point with familiar references to “Usher,” when he decries “…this one-sidedly rationalistic and scientific orientation to man…that buries half the personality alive” (Benoit). In other words, mankind’s dualistic nature is incomplete when intuition or faith is sacrificed in favor of the rational and scientific. Lady Madeline of Usher, therefore, symbolizes this buried faith.
Raymond Benoit’s article urges the reader to take a second look at the schism of the narrator’s mind, torn between his observations and a power that “…lies among considerations beyond our depth” (Poe 1535). It is precisely the narrator’s fear of looking inward that haunts him. His “…rationalistic and scientific explanations seem only to balloon as he seeks to calm Roderick (that is, himself) by attempting to suppress any spiritual significance” (Benoit). As the tension builds, so does the narrator’s insistence. Finally, the story culminates with a dramatic psychological upheaval, symbolized by “The Fall of The House of Usher.” It is a violent event that forces the narrator to flee, despite all of his reasoned and rational explanations. The unnaturally close twins Roderick and Madeline further symbolize the dualism of faith and reason, although Benoit avoids explanations of such obvious symbolism.
To support his points, Benoit uses a scholarly works cited page of seven authors. Chief among them is the well-known philosopher David Hume. For students of philosophy, this is a great starting point. However, this philosophical beginning may not be accessible to many readers. Thankfully, other authors contribute to Benoit’s main points more plainly. One contributing author named Edward Davidson clarifies Poe’s observation of the “…delusion of modern man that he can reduce the phenomenal universe to his own convenient, measurable detail” (Benoit). This Romantic vs. Enlightenment conflict is clearly spelled out by this quote. Poe admonishes the reader to not bury faith in pursuit of reason, the way lady Madeline of Usher was similarly buried.
Benoit, Raymond. “Poe’s The Fall of The House of Usher.” Explicator; 58.2.
(Winter 2000): 79. Online. TexShare. Academic Search Premier
Poe, Edgar Allen. “The Fall of The House of Usher.” The Norton Anthology of American
Literature. Vol A, 6th Edition, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2003: 1534-1547