Roderick Usher: Character Analysis & Overview

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  • 0:01 Overview of Roderick Usher
  • 1:04 Character Traits
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

Edgar Allan Poe's story 'The Fall of the House of Usher' is one of the best known (and creepiest) of his stories. A big part of the story's fame is due to the strange character, Roderick Usher. Read on to find out more about this character and what makes him so strange!

Overview of Roderick Usher

Edgar Allen Poe's character Roderick Usher was considered a controversial character at the time of publication, and he remains one of the more interesting and colorful characters in the history of American literature. A large reason for this is that Roderick Usher is a strange character with a belief in the occult and psychic abilities.

On the surface, Roderick Usher, the main character of the story, is a reclusive, wealthy gentleman living with his twin sister on his family's long-held estate. He is the last descendant of a direct lineage and heir of the fortune and estate, as he has no children. He has allowed his home and land to fall into decay. He doesn't leave his house and he has no friends. The only person he counts as a friend is the protagonist, whom he has neither seen nor communicated with since childhood. Society often looks at friendless, awkward people who choose to stay single and who decide to seclude themselves at home as different or strange, and Poe's story plays on that societal view of people who live in seclusion.

Character Traits

Appearance: Neglected

Roderick Usher's physical traits mirror the state of the House of Usher: neglected. The protagonist is shocked at how much Usher's appearance has changed since childhood. These features include sickly pale skin, matted hair that has been allowed to grow wildly, and eyes that are large and luminous. Clearly, Roderick Usher has a hard time focusing on personal care of himself or his things, something that isn't socially acceptable behavior. This behavior heightens the creepy nature of the story.

Communication: Nervous

Roderick had struggled with a speech impediment during his childhood, but the narrator tells us that Usher's communication problems have become worse. Usher has always had a stutter - 'habitual trepidancy--an excessive nervous agitation' - but it is now much worse. He also has inconsistent speech patterns; Roderick's voice and speech frequently change from abrupt, fast-paced manic speech, to slow, serious, controlled speech.

Roderick does attempt to communicate through music. He plays music and improvises songs on his guitar. He also attempts to express himself through art to share 'a full consciousness…of the tottering of his lofty reason upon her throne.'

Usher uses art as a way to express these subconscious feelings; in his songs and stories, Roderick expresses themes of despair, fear, and anxiety that come from the fall of his family line. He needs to use art to do this because his communication is so poor that he cannot verbally express himself clearly - another quality that society might find weird.

Roderick Usher's Personality

A major goal for the protagonist of the Fall of the House of Usher is to understand the cause of Roderick's strange behavior and illness. Poe strongly hints that Roderick is driven by supernatural forces or inexplicable phenomena at work. Let's look at some of these possible reasons for Roderick Usher's strange activity:

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