Reading: 3 minutes

I’m fond of the writing of Edgar Allan and recently revisited The Fall of the House of Usher – a short story assigned in school to introduce us to the short-story form, symbolism and setting.

Here’s the first paragraph:

“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was — but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me — upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain — upon the bleak walls — upon the vacant eye-like windows — upon a few rank sedges — and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees — with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium — the bitter lapse into every-day life — the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart — an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it — I paused to think — what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down — but with a shudder even more thrilling than before — upon the re-modelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.”

Quite the property description, huh? It gets worse:

“…I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the

specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.”

Despite the narrator’s misgivings about the condition of the house, he says, “Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to myself a sojourn of some weeks…”

That line makes me laugh, because you’d think that if the house was that scary looking, the narrator would rethink his agreement to visit his boyhood friend. But – no! – he goes inside and is greeted by a valet who escorts him to his friend:

“The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellissed panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around; the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered…An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.”

Turns out the house itself is a major character in the tragedy, hence the name. It’s a stand-in for the family Usher. And it’s the setting for the story about that family.

Where we live is, indeed, the setting for the story of our lives. I think it’s important not to lose sight of that when it comes to real estate.

In the midst of worrying about inflation, rising interest rates, down payments, the cost of remodeling and supply chain issues, we musn’t lose track of what a home actually IS. It’s the setting for our story.

I recommend incorporating an archetypal view of home into your decision making when you’re selling or buying. Consider your own proverbial “house” – i.e. your actual person – and how you want your physical house to support your and your family’s progress and happiness. How do you want your home to FEEL?

Zoom out from the details of price, terms and negotiations and take a macro-level view. Don’t ignore the “vibes” you get from a property because, honestly, that sh*t is real and if you’re qualified to sell or buy, then you actually have some CHOICE in the matter. Unlike poor Roderick Usher who, as you’ll learn, is fated to fall.

Photo Credit: Meg Jerrard

Author and RealEstateTherapy curator Cynthia Cummins has been devoted to homeowners and homebuyers for three decades and counting. Visit for more information on San Francisco real estate.