Literacy Review Of The Fall Of The House Of Usher And Beowulf  

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There are about 7.53 billion people in this world, and each one undergoes its own hardships. Many fictional characters carry the same burdens as legitimate people because many times they are reflections of someone’s personal experiences.

Roderick from “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe faces daily struggles in his mind that he is certain are of his house, similar to Beowulf and the struggle he takes on when trying to defeat the monster in the poem “Beowulf” translated by Burton Raffel. Although the conflict between “The Fall of the House of Usher” is between his anxiety and unstable conditions, and Beowulf’s conflicts are defeating a monster, each has to learn the importance of being victorious in their lowest times.

The themes of both stories are very different, but maybe if Roderick would have had the bravery and strength that Beowulf did, the outcome of the poems would have been different. Instead of being brave and victorious, Edgar Allan Poe teaches us that fear and imagination can feed off of one another and takedown one’s soul in a matter of time.

Sociological and Marxist Criticism (Themes, Characters, Situations)

Like many people, Roderick suffered from fear, his imagination, and madness. The way he dealt with those things was the theme of this story. His fear and imagination fed off of one another and caused him to fear his own house when in reality, there was nothing to fear. Roderick loses sanity and begins to feel a set of madness overcoming him. He becomes fearful of his surroundings, and allows his delusions to take over him and “abandon life and reason together.” In contrast, the theme in Beowulf is the importance of establishing one’s identity, so loyalty, strength, and courage play a huge role. To keep up Beowulf’s reputation, he needed to keep up a heroic record to show his bravery and good wills, very different from Roderick.

Roderick is not physically nor mentally well and eventually allows his fears to take over his life. Beowulf on the other hand has every trait of a perfect hero ever since he was a child, and in the end, sees himself as not only a king but a warrior as well. To save his people, he has to defeat the monster and ends up losing his life in battle. (Brooke, Stopford A. 'Beowulf' and 'Beowulf-The Poem.' Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism, edited by Dennis Poupard and Jelena O. Krstovic, vol. 1, Gale, 1988. Gale Literature Resource Center,) Both characters are in a fight with their own demons, whether it was Roderick’s personal issues, or the dragon Beowulf faced, and no matter how brave Beowulf seemed to be, he lost his life to him.

Sometimes the situations we are faced with allow us to see a side of us we did not know we had. For Roderick, he always knew his mind would one day be the death of him, but maybe if he would have had a small sense of bravery or courage, he could have gotten help and would not have let his mind take over his body. On the contrary, no matter how much experience you may have had as Beowulf did, the responsibilities as a person are always a reflection of the kind of person you were before and the kind of person you were truly meant to be. Beowulf gave up his life for the good of his people, and Roderick lost his battle with his thought of his sister Madeline coming back to get revenge on him for being selfish. (Mowery, Carl. 'An overview of 'The Fall of the House of Usher,'.' Short Stories for Students, Gale, 2002. Gale Literature Resource Center,)

Formalist Criticism

The Fall of the House of Usher is written in the first person from the narrator’s point of view. We know that the narrator is a childhood friend of Roderick and explains to us simply what he sees from the outside looking in on the Usher house. He knows that the Usher family is isolated from the outside world, he knows that Usher and Madeline have a special connection and that he shows much compassion for Roderick. (Weisheng, Tang. 'Edgar Allan Poe's Gothic Aesthetics of Things: Rereading 'The Fall of the House of Usher'.' Style, Fall 2018, p. 287+. Gale Literature Resource Center,)

Literary devices that play a huge role in this short story are imagery and symbolism. The art in the house is symbolic of his life and the troubles he faces, and the doubling and mirroring symbolizes the reflection of the house to Roderick’s life. The stylistic word choice Poe uses also portrays the imagery of everything being very dark and gloomy. Poe uses depressing statements and plots his stories around mental illnesses and demonizing creatures that overcome one's mind.

In Beowulf, it is told in a third-person omniscient point of view, which means that we have access to the narrator's thoughts and feelings as well as all of the other characters. Because of this, the reasons behind every action are revealed, and so are future acts due to knowing the past, present, and future. (Culbert, Taylor. 'Narrative Technique in Beowulf.' Poetry Criticism, edited by Carol T. Gaffke and Anna J. Sheets, vol. 22, Gale, 1999. Gale Literature Resource Center,)

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Alliteration is a common literary device used in Beowulf to emphasize what is being described, and caesura is used to draw importance and emphasis to a particular moment. Symbolism and imagery also allow us to visualize scenes of the poem like the sea and different bodies of water. The word choice in Beowulf is very discreet as they carefully describe the scenery of each part of Beowulf’s life and the battles he’s involved in. Connotative diction allows the reader to feel emotions towards Beowulf and other characters, and also helps the reader understand each situation.

Although both “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “Beowulf” are told from two different points of view, we can connect with the characters from both stories. In the short story, we are on the outside looking in, and in the poem, we can understand from different perspectives. Maybe if Roderick’s story was written in the third person omniscient, we would understand more of why he was the way he was and why he couldn't escape it.

Both selections used enough literary devices to allow the reader to connect with and understand the characters from their designated stores, and to conclude this, these two stories go to show that the use of different points of view and literary and stylistic devices can give different outlooks on stories to connect with each one on a different level.

Feminist Criticism

Madeline Usher is Roderick’s twin sister, and the two of them have a very special bond. She is very crucial to this story and a big component as to why Roderick drives himself mad, however, she is a peripheral character. Although at the time this poem was written, it was looked at that women were pure, innocent, and sweet, and that men were sexually dominant, but on the contrary, it is told that the two of them had an intimate relationship with one another. In many of Poe’s poems, women are both angels and monsters.

Although Madeline is not seen or heard very often, she is the one who controls her brother's physical and emotional state of mind. She comes back to haunt him and ultimately has full control over him. Because of this, although women were not supposed to be superior to men, and she was put to death first, she overcame the tomb and ended Usher’s life in her circumstances. (Thompson, Terry W. 'With Sympathy for Roderick: Madeline Usher and the Resurrection Men.' The Midwest Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 3, 2018, p. 255+. Gale Literature Resource Center,)

In Beowulf, male heroism is the central idea, and women's significance is minimized, yet there are a few female characters, and they play primary roles. Two of the three women are the wives of the kings, and their main duty is to make sure everybody else is having a good time. Later, the women realize their true potential and overthrow the stereotypical “acts” of women. They become influencers, of self-confidence and power.

Although both stories try to minimize the power of women, each of them returns to prove that women are empowering and stronger than they seem to be. Madeline overnights her brother’s mind, and Hygd of Beowulf shows her people that she was not going to allow her husband to control her any longer. Each woman in Beowulf has their own purpose in life, but none is any less than another’s, and that is why each one of them is empowering queens. (Dockray-Miller, Mary. 'The masculine queen of 'Beowulf.'.' Women and Language, vol. 21, no. 2, 1998, p. 31+. Gale Literature Resource Center,)

My Critique

Both selections showed much passion and emotion for each character. The themes and plots of both stories had excruciating details and were very clear of their purpose. I believe that the stories were written based on the author and their own personal experiences. Much like Edgar Allan Poe struggled with anxiety and depression, he expresses his emotional hardships through his characters. Although the author of Beowulf is anonymous, we can imagine that the individual was facing their own demons and was trying to prove himself to those seated higher than he was for example the “kings”.

My opinion of “The Fall of the House of Usher” was that there are numerous people who struggle with anxiety and depression, but we do not notice them when we are on the outside looking in, and the sad truth is that millions of lives are lost because of this reason. No matter how hard Roderick tried forgetting the voices in the house, they continued tempting him and eventually took over his body, which was ultimately the death of him. Beowulf continued to prove himself by being an honorable man and a worthy soldier, but it was simply not enough to defeat the dragon and was essentially the death of him.

Maybe if Roderick had the integrity and confidence that Beowulf did, he could have escaped his demons and went looking for help sooner, maybe his life could’ve been saved. In comparison, if Beowulf would have realized that he needed more help to defeat his demons - the dragon and that he was not as brave and strong as he thought he was, maybe he could have sought help and been victorious.

The ending of “The Fall of the House of Usher” was very emotional, much like “Beowulf”. We as a society need to realize that it is okay to seek help and find refuge. Sometimes we cannot fight off our inner demons alone. Regardless of if we are strong and have won many battles, sometimes the ones we are most confident about are the ones that end us.

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