Roderick’s Death In ‘The Fall Of The House Of Usher’: Did He Kill Madeline?


I have always believed that not all ambitious men are evil. Sometimes they are just in pure denial about the consequences of their actions. In The Fall of the House of Usher, Roderick can be seen as a boy driven by anger and ambition. It was the year 1953. Roderick’s mother, Eliza (named after Edgar Allan Poe’s mother), worked as a personal secretary for the CEO of Fortunato Pharmaceuticals, William Longfellow. William had an illicit affair with Eliza, and Roderick and Madeline were his illegitimate children, though he never really acknowledged them. Eliza saw William as God, but like all gods, he was flawed. For William, Eliza was disposable. Eventually, the bubble burst, and all of Eliza’s beliefs shattered, but unfortunately, it was too late.

In the years that followed, Eliza suffered from a condition called CADASIL. In simpler terms, she lost her mind and started hallucinating. On a stormy night, young Roderick and Madeline felt that their mother wouldn’t see another sunrise, and that was actually what happened. She became motionless, and the kids, too afraid to call the police or the doctor, tried to bury their mother in the yard. The mother hadn’t died at that time. She rose up from her grave to take revenge from the man who never really acknowledged her existence and used her as a commodity forever.

Eliza may have taken her revenge and killed William Longfellow in front of his house, but Roderick and Madeline were never actually able to forget the humiliation they went through throughout these years. Roderick wanted what was rightfully his: Fortunato, and Madeline wanted to prove to the world that not all women are meant to be used by powerful men. The two ambitious Ushers wanted to make a difference in the world, and for that, they were even ready to make a deal with the devil. It was the beginning of their story, and it was the end of it all.

Why did Roderick take over Fortunato Pharma?

It is no surprise that Roderick Usher was an overambitious man. The feeling stemmed from his own childhood, where he was ignored and disowned by his biological father. He knew his father; he knew how rich he was, yet Roderick grew up in extreme poverty. At this point, one can feel his burning desire to conquer the entire world, and Roderick wanted just that. After William’s death, the company went to Rufus Wilmot Griswold, the new CEO of Fortunato Pharma. The throne belonged to Roderick, but he didn’t have the right to inherit because he was an illegitimate son. Have you ever had that feeling of having something so close yet so distant from you? Roderick might have felt that every single day. He read a quote in Griswold’s new office: whoever has the gold makes the rule. But Roderick wasn’t a rulemaker in the world—not yet, but he yearned to become one.

Ligodone had always been Roderick’s pitch, but Griswold stole the idea because he was the man who made the rules. It was at this moment that Roderick understood a simple fact in life: he cannot win the game against the rule-maker, and thus he and Madeline decided to break the rules. I have always loved the idea of how Lady Macbeth and the three witches made Macbeth realize his true potential. Without such prompting, maybe Macbeth wouldn’t have ever killed Duncan. Roderick was an ambitious man and just needed a little push, and Madeline did enough to make her brother realize that rules need to be bent to get the kingdom that is rightfully theirs. The twin brother and sister tricked Griswold and murdered him in the most merciless way possible. Until now, Roderick had become a hero for the company by lying to the Feds and covering up Rufus’ malpractices. After Rufus’ disappearance, the board needed a face, and Roderick somehow fit the bill, just like Macbeth became the King of Scotland, even though he was never meant to.

Why Did Death Offer A Deal?

The thing about ambition is that it makes you blind. You start to believe that the world revolves around you. It makes you believe that you are invincible. And when reality strikes, it is late—sometimes too late to make amends. For the twins, the story was no different. They murdered Rufus in cold blood and believed that they had committed the perfect crime. But there was someone who knew how flawed and hollow their plans were.

After killing Rufus, the twins entered a bar on the last night of 1979. They wanted to create an alibi for themselves but were unaware of the evil that awaited them. Inside the mysterious bar, they met death herself. Being an all-knowing entity, death knew what the future held for the twins, but seeing them so unmoved by the gravity of their actions, she might have wanted to teach them a lesson. So Verna tempted them with a deal. We want to use the word “tempt” because Roderick himself realized in the end that it was the result of his temptations and nothing else. He could have lived a righteous and happy life with Annabel Lee, but temptations and ambitions corrupted the man’s heart. He was no longer himself.

Why did Roderick make the deal with death?

The truth is, Roderick and Madeline Usher were meant to be arrested that night. There is no concept of an afterlife in reality, and you pay for your sins in the current life itself. It was obvious that twins had already sold their souls to the devil when they committed a heinous crime, and therefore, death wanted to tempt them further and play a little game with them. She wanted to test their character, or perhaps wanted to give them a chance to redeem themselves, and therefore she gave them an offer that they couldn’t refuse. The twins would have been charged for their crimes sooner or later, but Verna promised that no such tragedy would ever befall upon them in their lives. They won’t be convicted of any crimes. They would have all the luxuries in the world, but their future generations would have to pay the price for it. Was it just me, or did it sound like Macbeth would be king, but his future generations wouldn’t inherit the throne?

Verna, in simpler words, gave absolute autonomy to Roderick and Madeline to write their destiny, but instead of being charitable to humanity, the twins served their own selfishness. It was something Verna probably wanted to test: their character. The twins filled their pockets, but at what cost? They killed millions and millions of people to gather the luxury and never ever thought about its repercussions. In short, they started to consider themselves gods, or, as Roderick Usher called himself, Victor Frankenstein.

An ambitious Roderick was in a hurry to climb the ladder of success. He didn’t even bother to pay heed to death’s conditions and signed his death certificate without much fuss. He agreed to play the game without even knowing the rules of it because Roderick has always been a ruler-maker or rule-breaker but never a follower. However, sometimes you just have to stand still and scrutinize things before taking such a grave step. Unfortunately, Roderick was too ambitious for that. He brought the curse upon his own “house” because, at the moment, the deal seemed too lucrative to him. The deal would crown him a king in his lifetime, but the irony was that he would have to see his children die in front of his own eyes in old age, and that was the justice Verna sought.

The thing is, Roderick and Madeline Usher had the choice to refuse the deal with the devil, but they didn’t. Verna had tried to offer a similar deal to Arthur Pym, but the man had already witnessed how hollow and meaningless the world is. He knew that no amount of luxury could change the horrors that he had seen at the edge of the world and therefore just wanted to die in peace instead of embarking on yet another futile journey. Arthur Pym never allowed himself to be leveraged by any man or woman, probably because he loved his independence too much. It was perhaps the reason why he decided not to partake in a deal with death; otherwise, his life, whatever was left of it, would be burdened by a debt that he would not have been able to repay. Death told him that he would be spending the rest of his life in a federal prison, and maybe Arthur Pym needed just that: a roof to rest under for the rest of his life.

Did Roderick Usher kill his own children?

Roderick Usher was born with a Midas touch. Ironically, everything he touched turned to gold, a soulless, lifeless entity that shines bright yet is devoid of any human emotions. His elder children, Frederick and Tamerlane, were happy with their mother, Annabel Lee, until Roderick intervened. He flashed his wealth in front of their children and caught them in a trap from which they failed to escape. Annabel Lee could see how her husband starved his children of emotions and turned them into demons just like him. But in the real world, the poor mother was as helpless as anyone was against the giant. She died in misery, but Roderick didn’t blink an eye. He never felt remorseful for the loss of Annabel Lee until his own death came near.

Roderick Usher took pride in welcoming his illegitimate children, unlike his biological father, William Longfellow. However, what he failed to realize was that his wealth was like a virus that corrupted the hearts of innocent men and women. The children died the day they came under Roderick’s wings. They were left with no purpose at all except to destroy humanity more and more like little demons would. The children had to die, not because of the deal but because they were the extensions of Roderick himself. The opioid epidemic couldn’t have been stopped even if one Usher was alive, and Verna knew it well. The deaths weren’t personal at all, but they had to die for the greater good of the entire human world.

However, it wasn’t the violent deaths of Roderick’s children that affected the man the most, but the silent passing away of his beloved Lenore that he couldn’t bear. We can speculate that Roderick might have expected the deaths of his children, but Lenore’s death came as a total shock that broke the man down. It was the final push that drove Roderick completely insane in the end. The man couldn’t stomach such a loss, as he was never prepared for it. He started seeing the Raven more and more, and as the agent of death made frequent visits, Roderick realized that his end was now inevitable. It was time for him to pay for the sins he had committed throughout his life.

What was Roderick’s legacy?

It would be a lie if Roderick Usher ever said to anyone that he didn’t want to be immortal. Both the twins shared a common desire to live forever, and that was the reason why he funded his daughter’s project after he was diagnosed with CADASIL (a syndrome that he inherited from his mother). But there is something in life that money can’t buy, and ironically, it is life itself. When Roderick saw Verna after so many years, he asked her to name her price, and we instantly knew how ignorant the man could be. Roderick Usher perhaps spent most of his life in denial, which was why he failed to remember the deal that he had made with death. He kept telling the world and himself that he was there to ease the pain. But the reality was that his drug was addictive and poisonous to mankind. Roderick’s denial kept killing millions of people without him flinching an eye, and in the end, his legacy was a pyramid of dead bodies that no one will ever be able to erase from history.

Thankfully, in the end, Roderick realized that there is no such thing as a painkiller. He sold lies packed in plastic bottles, but even in those concluding moments, he stated that there wasn’t anything he would have done differently. He was an ambitious man, and without his ambitions, he was nobody.

Why did Roderick Try To kill Madeline?

While The Fall of the House of Usher doesn’t clearly explain Roderick’s final motivation to kill his twin sister, we believe it was yet another attempt to change the math. Death had prophesied that the twins would die together, the same way they were born, and maybe Roderick felt that Madeline’s early death might change the course of destiny, but he was so utterly wrong. Madeline wasn’t dead, just like their mother wasn’t dead when they put her in the grave. She rose up in the horrible state she was in just to finish one last task: to kill Roderick Usher, so that deal could be complete.

In the last moments, the twins kept telling themselves that whatever the consequences might be, in the end, they did change the world. Well, definitely they did. Change is a subjective term. You can change the world for better or worse, but unfortunately, in the case of the Ushers, the latter was true. Verna had given the twins a chance to redeem themselves, but in the end, we guess they were too proud to realize their own mistakes. They blamed it on humanity and their choices. They finally claimed that they were the demons in the world who fed on human desires. Only if they had a little bit of conscience to do what was the right thing to do would they have really been able to make a difference in the world and change it for the better.

There is no definite way to explain why Roderick did what he did. It could be anything: anger, desire, or revenge. The important question to ask is: did he do anything to amend his mistakes? The answer is definitely no. Neither Roderick nor Madeline ever accepted the fact that they were wrong. Even God or Death wouldn’t have been able to reason with them. Maybe Verna had believed that the entire journey would be able to change the twins, but in the end, they were content with the choices they made in life, and hence, the least we could say about the twins is that some people are not meant to be saved.

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Shikhar Agrawal
Shikhar Agrawal
I am an Onstage Dramatist and a Screenwriter. I have been working in the Indian Film Industry for the past 12 years, writing dialogues for various films and television shows.

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