"I looked upon the scene before me — 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." (Edgar Allen Poe - The Fall of the House of Usher p. 1535)
(Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare)
In this passage, the narrator is describing the delaphidated Usher estate and the very strong and unexplainable reaction he feels to it. He attempts to describe what the combination of the two inspire and can only compair it to an expierence of coming off of an opium trip and returning from that euphoric state to a dull, dark and broken reality.
I went back and examined Poe's The Fall of the House of Usher after our class discussion and it seemed an entirely different story to me. In Poe's tale, evil seemes to come from many sources, from nature and from the house itself but its root, the point in which all of the evil in the story converges, is the mind.
Throughout the story, Poe repeadedly alludes that what the narrator is expierencing is not necessarily based exclusively in reality. Many times the narrator isn't able to express exactly what is bothering him about a particular thing as with his first sight of the Usher house. "I know not how it was - but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit." (p. 1534) It's clear that the narrator is feeling deeply gloomy, but he isn't able to describe what is making him feel that way. Later in the story, the narrator says that he will never forget the many hours he spent in the house with Roderick, but that "[he] should fail in any attempt to convey an idea of the exact character of the studies, or of the occupations, in which he involved me..."(p. 1539) The fact that the narrator is missing this information - that he is unable to recall any details or describe with any certainty the nature of what troubles him alludes to the idea that his expierences my not be entirely real or taken a step further, completely in his mind. Both of these passages are laced with language of a dark and evil mood - "insufferable gloom" and a "pervaded spirit" have evil connontations and in the later passage, the narrator describes this memory of time spent with Roderick as a "shroud" which makes an allusion to death and in this case, (as one wouldn't usually bear the memory of spending time with some one as a "shroud") also has evil connontations. When coupled with the idea that both of these passages not only describe dark and evil feelings, but that they are completely rooted in the narrators mind, you can see how Poe brings the two together to craft a picture of the mind as the origin of evil.
The narrator isn't the only place we see evidence for Poe's intentional implications to the mind as the origin of evil in The Fall of the House of Usher. In a contrasting moment for the narrator, one of the details he can remember is of a "verbal improvisation" (p.1540) Roderick performs in the form of a poem or song. "Snow-white palace — reared its head. /In the monarch Thought's dominion —/It stood there!" (p. 1540) This poem being one of the only solid details that the narrator remembes serves as an emphisis for its importance in the story. In these lines, it states that the kingdom is under "Thought's" dominion and that is where it stands - in thought or the mind. Later the poem describes a scene in the kindom where "A troop of Echoes whose sole duty/ Was but to sing . . ./The wit and wisdom of their king."(p.1541) In these lines, the Echoes can be explained as those of the mind.
(Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare [Frankfurt Version])Here you see an interation that mirrors the insanity of Roderick and the narrator himself - echos symbolizing past thoughts being re-"sung" and nothing more than shadows of the king's mind (as his "wit and wisdom") but also personifies the echoes as people - tangible, reality based interaction, linking it directly to the story. The narrator says that the title of Roderick's poem is "The Haunted Palace" (p. 1540) Poe is drawing a clear parallel between the story and the poem, thereby alluding to the idea that what is happening to the narrator and Roderick is also in the kingdom of thought. Poe uses the trappings of mental instability as a device to illustrate evil in Usher again, pointing to the mind as the origin of evil.
Throughout Usher we see the mental breakdown of Roderick as well as the effective pacifiation of the narrator which ultimately allows Roderick to go unchecked by anyone. By the end of the story, we know that it is Roderick's actions that lead to the supernatural fall of both the metaphoric and material House of Usher. Through Roderick's insantity, shared in part (or maybe even in full) by the narrator, horror and evil are depicted and Poe gives demonstrates how the mind itself can be a source of evil.