The narrator is an old boyhood friend of Roderick Usher’s from school days. He has not seen his friend since then but comes at an urgent request by letter to visit because of Usher’s unspecified nervous illness. The narrator’s reactions to the weird events of the story are those of someone sympathetic to the characters but who tries to remain in his rational worldview to explain what is going on. Despite his apparent normalcy, he is drawn into Roderick’s mad distorted world of art and death. He sees a vision of supernatural horror (the dead arising from the grave) but escapes the destruction of the House of Usher, a sole witness of these terrible events.
The twin sister of Roderick is only seen from a distance as a beautiful, pale, dying young woman with a mysterious wasting disease that leaves her paralyzed at times. She and her twin brother have complete psychic empathy so they feel each other’s thoughts and emotions. They suffer from the same sort of depression, hinted to be a family legacy, or else generated by the house itself. Her impending death makes Roderick anxious, for he loves Madeleine very much, and it is implied, he loves her in some strange or illicit way that seems to be weighing heavily on both of them. Madeleine is portrayed as weak and wasting away, yet in the last scene, she has supernatural strength to break out of a coffin and a copper-lined vault with an iron door to confront her brother with his crime.
The main character is shown descending from a nervous condition into complete madness. The final stroke is putting his sister into a coffin before she is dead. He is a “hypochondriac,” or depressed, with abnormal and distorted sensory reactions. He is a cultured and refined man whose paintings and musical compositions reflect his unhinged mind, yet the narrator sees he is talented and an idealist with lofty thoughts. Roderick and his sister are the last of their line and probably mad because of the family’s apparent habit of inbreeding and perhaps, incest. Roderick seems to be persuasive and charismatic despite his affliction, for the narrator is struck by his art and is willing to go along with his reasons for burying Madeleine.