Analyzing Personality in “The Fall of the House of Usher”

3 min read

In the haunting reimagination of Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” which recently premiered on Netflix, the enigmatic children of Roderick Usher form a central pillar to the narrative’s psychological intrigue.

Roderick, a wealthy man living in the shadow of an ominous past, has fathered six children over the course of his life. Each one bears distinct personality traits that reflect their complex heritage and become a focal point for exploring the interplay of nature, nurture, and destiny.

I argue that Roderick’s children—Frederick, Tamerlane, Victorine, Napoleon, Camille, and Prospero—represent varied aspects of the Big Five personality traits. These characters become a living canvas, showing how personal characteristics can dictate life paths and influence familial bonds. Through them, we can witness the power of personality in shaping human interactions and, perhaps, our ultimate fates. I believe this dissection not only deepens our insight into the psychological complexity of Poe’s characters but also invites us to reflect on the universal truths of human behavior mirrored in their fictional existences.

The Foundation of Personality: The Big Five

The Big Five personality traits—openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism—are a widely accepted framework for studying personality. I argue that each of Roderick Usher’s children can be better understood through the various ways they embody the Big Five personality dimensions, casting light on the unseen forces that drive their choices and interrelations. Let’s look at four of them here:

1. Victorine LaFourcade: The Scientist’s Ethical Dilemma

Victorine, the eldest of Roderick’s illegitimate children, is a pioneering researcher who increasingly defies the boundaries of science in order to gain her father’s approval. She could be seen to exemplify high openness but demonstrates variable conscientiousness as she vies for her father’s affection, culminating in a moral quandary.

2. Napoleon “Leo” Usher: The Substance-Abusing Hedonist

Leo, the substance-abusing “playboy,” arguably represents high extraversion, living on the edge of pleasure and pain. His life is a canvas illustrating the downfall of indulgence without boundaries, ultimately leading to a numbness that no drug can alleviate.

3. Camille L’Espanaye: The PR Maven’s Power Play

Camille, the family’s PR cudgel and keeper of its darkest secrets, displays low agreeableness. Her relentless pursuit of leverage, regardless of the relational damage it causes, also appears to be driven by a kind of neuroticism.

4. Prospero “Perry” Usher: The Partying Prodigal

Similar to Leo is Perry, draped in luxury and youthful arrogance. Perry can also be seen as a modern-day cautionary tale of how high extraversion without self-regulation can lead to a dangerous dance with indulgence.

The Core of Family Dynamics

Throughout the miniseries, the personalities of the Usher siblings can be seen as prime examples of how deeply individual traits can influence family relationships. Each sibling reflects various facets of how personality shapes familial ties.

These characters not only offer a psychological feast for analysis but also echo the enduring themes found in Poe’s original works. They provide a vivid tableau for examining how individual dispositions dictate the course of our lives.

As the curtain closes on our psychological exploration of the Usher family, we’re reminded of the haunting words of Poe himself: “There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion.” In the end, the Usher siblings show us that, even beneath wealth and grandeur, the human heart beats to the rhythm of its deepest traits.

For a Freudian psychoanalytic interpretation that delves further into the Usher family’s psychological entanglements, check out the first part of this series: “Freud Meets Netflix: Unraveling ‘House of Usher.'”

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