Today’s class was (for me, anyway) a fascinating discussion of various elements of Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and a lesson in how to view that story through the lens of psychoanalytic criticism. We began by talking a little about atmosphere (the reactions that a story provokes in an audience or reader) and setting (the place, time, historical and social milieu of a story), and how we perceived these in “House of Usher.” We described the setting as personified and sentient, and looked at how this affected Roderick Usher and the narrator. Specifically, we considered ways in which the House takes on life, and even represents the family itself– a use of metonymy (a literary device in which one object or word actually means something else). Over the course of the class, we touched on the points of incest, anxiety and fear, confinement, and the “gothic” in the story, and posited several interpretations for “The Haunted Palace,” Poe’s poem-within-the-story.
Justin and Sara then talked about psychoanalytic criticism and ways in which we could apply it to “House of Usher”; they suggested (among other things) that we might view the story as a dream, or at least look at “dream symbols” in the story. We might also look at the role of subconscious desires and drives (for sex and death) in the lives of these characters, and see how they are pushed down into the psyche and surface (usually at inopportune moments). We ended by looking at the tarn as a symbol– possible of femininity, dangerous sexuality, or even the unconscious mind– that swallows up the House at the story’s conclusion.