115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Doubling Effects of Ray Bradbury’s “Usher II” Explored Through Freud’s “Uncanny”

Lupina Hossain, California State University

In a post-colonial, post-genocide and post-war 1950s America, Ray Bradbury’s “Usher II” provides us with a mirror image of ourselves, forcing us to confront a range of social issues through the process of displacement. The alternative is full self-recognition, which ultimately may be too traumatic to bear. 

Proposal: 

Manifestations of doubling in western literature date back to antiquity, related to the metaphysical distinctions between body and soul, between and good and evil. This dualism is seen in classics such as Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night, and it later emerges in Gothic works such as Shelly’s Frankenstein and Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. In this paper, I am interested in looking at a more contemporary genre—Science Fiction—where a recurrent theme is the encounter with the “alien” Other. As Fedrick Jameson notes, in our imagination, the alien Other which we yearn to find is often actually anthropomorphic, and bears a striking resemblance to ourselves. In this sense, science fiction often essentially represents a search for our alter ego. In his linked story collection, The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury superimposes American society onto Martian terrain. Then, in tale after tale, he explores the implication of this doppelganger effect. In his story, “Usher II,” Bradbury presents us with a wealthy man named Stendahl who commissions Edgar Allen Poe’s House of Usher to be built on Mars, complete with a mechanical animals and machines to simulate Poe’s perpetual dreary autumn day. By also inserting Poe’s original words into his description, Bradbury creates an even more complex doubling effect. This paper, focusing particularly on “Usher II,” I will consider what Bradbury’s various techniques in representing Mars as an “Other” to Earth say about who we are as a society, what we seek as humans. In my analysis of Bradbury’s work, I will draw on Freud’s theories of “Uncanny,” particularly his notion that we can encounter the Other only indirectly, because coming in direct contact with it will destroy us, or lead us to destroy it. Bradbury’s creation of an “uncanny” Mars works both thematically and intertextually. This is, perhaps an effort to make readers encounter themselves on a metatextual level. When American readers of the 1950s viewed Bradbury’s work, it was a time of international strife—a world emerging from colonization, genocide, and war. In that context, Bradbury provides America with a mirror image of itself, allowing us to confront a range of social issues through a process of displacement. The alternate would be to come into a destructive form of direct contact with ourselves and our history, as we see in “Usher II.” Faced with even hints of full self-recognition, Stendhal must destroy his alter -ego, because the truth would be too traumatic to bear. 

Topic Area: