Sylvia Hong 485200100
Journal 1 on Structuralism
March 19, 2000
A Structuralist Interpretation of ¡§The Fall of the House of Usher¡¨
From a structuralist point of view, the structure of a literary work is like the structure of language. Here the language is defined as a system of differences, namely, a pattern of binary oppositions. As language can be analyzed through signs, which are socially and culturally ¡§arbitrary, conventional and differential,¡¨ literature can also be interpreted through the perspective of semiotics, in which a sign is seen as a union of signifier and signified. Through such approach, the expression of an individual author is omitted, while the general rule of grammar and syntax become major concerns.
The setting is an important sign in this story. First, in the literal level, the house is the family mansion for the Usher. But the ¡§House of Usher¡¨ also represents the name of the family. To be more specific, the Gothic atmosphere of this bleak, dreary and gloomy mansion signifies the hereditary madness of the family. In addition, the house also implies the haunted soul of both the sister and the brother as well as the vacant window is suggested as their spiritual eyes. Thirdly, the mirroring effect of the tarn, in which the mansion was clearly reflected, suggests the doubling of the twins. The way that the tarn images the house actually signifies the way that Madeline, the insane sister whom is very much alike Usher in many ways, reveal the innermost madness and fear of Usher.
In this Gothic fiction, Usher, though was trying hard at first to suppress his inner terror by burying his dead sister underground, was still possessed by the fear at the end. Here we can see the main binary opposition is between consciousness and unconsciousness. First, we can see that Madeline, whose insanity reveals the similar characteristic of his brother, is the one who represents the unconscious side, while Usher stands for the conscious side. In other words, the craziness of the sister is like the restrained unconsciousness that keeps haunting Usher and the whole house. This duality can further be seen in the living state of these two characters: Madeline, being dead, is in the concealed and suppressed state, while Usher, who¡¦s alive, is in the state of being exposed.
In some way Usher seems to be able to overpower his fear, since he is the one in control, burying crazy Madeline, the fear that he¡¦s afraid to face, to the basement of the house, which is actually the very bottom of his soul. Therefore, we could say that at first Usher, the one of the unconcealment, is the Object that threaten the powerless Subject, Madeline, the one of being concealed. However, the unconsciousness that Usher tries to constrain by hiding eventually finds its way out, as Madeline hideously resurrects at the end. By then, the power shifts from the unconcealment to the concealment: Usher, the one who used to be in power, becomes the powerless Object, while Madeline and the unconsciousness it represents becomes the Subject that suppress Usher in return.