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Home > The Theory of Ancestral Sin as Depicted in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’

The Theory of Ancestral Sin as Depicted in ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’

"The Fall of the House of Usher" depicts one father's sins revisited upon his children. The Usher family portrait.

How a Bible Verse May Have Inspired Mike Flanagan’s Newest Horror Drama

Anyone who knows the feeling of sitting on hard pews on Sunday morning and listening to long-lived hymns may recognize that Mike Flanagan’s newest Netflix miniseries, The Fall of the House of Usher (2023), has touched on a familiar verse. From Dante’s Inferno (1314) to Saint Maud (2019), religion and horror have joined hand in hand in many fictional pieces. Mike Flanagan himself has come out with a previous miniseries, Midnight Mass (2021), that had very strong religious connections, so it is not wildly out of the question that he could create another piece of work with a similar subtext. Many fans have speculated already that The Fall of the House of Usher alludes to the seven deadly sins, but could it also be touching on a separate piece of Christian text? There is a verse in the Old Testament that may have provided inspiration for Netflix’s newest big horror hit.

Gothic Horror Reimagined 

Released on Netflix on October 12th, 2023, The Fall of the House of Usher brought some of gothic horror writer Edgar Allan Poe’s most popular stories to a modern audience. Created and directed by Mike Flanagan, the show has been praised as his best work so far. Gothic literature fans will recognize tropes of ravens, decrepit houses, murder mysteries, and storms that are common in the genre and may even recognize familiar names being used. It is also worth noting that each episode is titled after a different work of Poe’s, and each character’s death correlates with said work as well.

The story starts with Roderick Usher (Bruce Greenwood), the CEO of the booming Fortunato Pharmaceuticals, who is nearing the end of his life. He sits across from an old acquaintance and attorney of his, Auguste Dupain (Carl Lumbly), as he explains the recent deaths of his children. The show then flashes from events in the week before to the present day as each episode focuses on a new character’s death. Roderick is adamant that he is the reason his children are dead, but the episodes show his children dying of freak accidents. A woman named Verna (an anagram for “raven”), played by Carla Gugino, is a witness to each death. Throughout the series, it is not explained just how Roderick and Verna are connected to these deaths until the show’s end. Flanagan’s religious past could be a key to the show’s morbid plot.

The Seven Deadly Sins Theory 

Fans have previously speculated that the deaths in the show coincide with the seven deadly sins and possibly the seven layers of hell. The theorized list is as follows: Prospero (Sauriyan Sapkota) as lust, Camille (Kate Siegal) as envy, Leo (Rahul Kohli) as sloth, Victorine (T’Nia Miller) as pride, Tamerlane (Samantha Sloyan) as gluttony, Frederick as wrath, and finally Madeline (Mary McDonnell) and Roderick as greed. The definitions of the cardinal sins match well with the character’s desires and intentions that ultimately bring their end. 

'The Fall of the House of Usher' depicts how all too commonly, the sins of the father can revisit his children. Carla Gugino is Verna or Death in the episode entitled "The Masque of the Red Death."

Unfortunately, according to a post made on Saturday, October 14th, 2023, on Mike Flanagan’s official Tumblr, he has acknowledged this theory as false. The theory also fails since an eighth innocent character dies in a manner much more peaceful than the rest. When it comes to the seven sins, Roderick has been a victim of all of them, so it does not fit that he resides only as greedy. However, in the same post that Flanagan denied the sins theory, he also claims his happiness in fans speculating about the series and urges them on to a separate possible intention. From a creator who often hides hidden messages and easter eggs, fans are now trying to find the next possible inspiration for how Poe’s works were put together for this modern adaptation. 

Sins of the Father  

“For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Deuteronomy 5:9-10).

Though the Bible claims that punishment for sin is not brought to younger generations, it does still state that the weight of ancestral sin is passed on. This idea of generational trauma has been seen in other popular media as well, such as Disney’s Encanto (2021) and A24’s Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). As mental health issues are being recognized in the real world, film and TV are following in, showing how the stresses and coping mechanisms of parents and grandparents affect children. Roderick Usher is depicted as an absent father who only puts effort into his children financially and when he can use them for his benefit. This lack of parenting caused his children to do anything they could so their father would notice them. 

Usher’s motives and temptations are followed through his children who use unethical resources to get what they want. For example, Victorine has no issue with using a patient to be her test subject for a medical device that had yet to succeed in the animals experimented on. Tamerlane used her husband as a commodity for her business. These mirror much of what a young Roderick did with his trials as he was helping to grow Fortunato as a company. Meanwhile, his granddaughter, who has only shown empathy and care for those around her, remains innocent as she is further distanced from Roderick than her father is to him. Her distance from Roderick very well alludes to the healing process of working with generational trauma in one’s family.

The Fall of the House of Usher is a masterpiece of horror and mystery that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Whether the theory is true or not, the series is still an example of how older generations affect the growth and presence of the newer. 

Stream The Fall of the House of Usher on Netflix, where information can also be found on the cast and crew.

'The Fall of the House of Usher' demonstrates the dangers of a father's sins for his children and their future. Roderick and Madelyn Usher visit a nonexistent bar on one life changing Halloween.

The Fall of the House of Usher (2023) Official Netflix Trailer

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With a bachelor's degree in Film and Media Studies from Arizona State University, Ashley has a passion for the history of filmmaking and how audiences share a relationship with publicized media. Her love for the horror genre as well as feminist themes runs deep.

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Elke Simmons' writing portfolio includes contributions to The Laredo Morning Times, Walt Disney World Eyes and Ears, Extinction Rebellion (XR) News/Blog, and Dead Talk News.