The purpose of this research is to discuss the formalistic approach to Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" ("FHU"). The object of formalistic criticism is to discover and explain the form of Poe's short story from an examination of the text. The text will be used to discover the shape and effect of the story, as well as to discuss how they are achieved.
In A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature the underlying rationale to the formalistic approach is discussed (Guerin 72). The background of formalistic theory can be found in classical art and aesthetics which showed a preoccupation with form. The theory of unity of Aristotle's Poetics has particular application "FHU."
Poe's theories of art--an extension of Coleridge's theory that parts "mutually support and explain each other; all in their proportion harmonizing with, and supporting the purpose and known influences of metrical arrangement"--are based on the premise that short stories and poems, in other words, short works of art, are the most excellent forms of literature because they can maintain and transmit a single, unitary effect more successfully than longer works (Guerin 73).
What is considered the true systematic and methodological formalistic approach to literary criticism appeared in the 1930s with the rise of the New Criticism. "The New Critics sought precision and structural tightness in the literary work; they favored a style and tone that, tended toward irony; they insisted on the presence within the work of everything necessary for its analysis; and they called for an end to a concern by critics and teacher of English with matters outside the work itself" (Guerin 75). To adopt the tenets of the New Criticism leads to an extremely careful reading of the text.
The process of formalistic analysis begins with an intensive reading of the text, including all levels of meanings, the etymologies of words, structures and patterns, rela...