Editor’s note: The below contains spoilers for The Fall of the House of Usher
The Big Picture
- Color theory is used in both literature and film to convey emotions and atmospheres, not just for aesthetic purposes.
- The specific colors associated with each character’s episodes and deaths in The Fall of the House of Usher have significant meaning and enhance thematic and emotional connotations.
- The colors in the show can be connected to the seven deadly sins, enhancing the symbolism and depth of each character’s demise.
The long-debated, and tangled rabbit hole of color theory has been potently used by filmmakers, writers, and artists over the years. Color has definitely been associated with meaning, but it is more firmly associated with relaying different emotions and atmospheres. Edgar Allan Poe notably employs color coding in The Masque of the Red Death, where each of the seven rooms in Prince Prospero’s luxurious party is painted in its own hue: red, white, orange, green, blue, violet, and black. However, critics have long debated the meanings associated with each room, or if there is any meaning at all, suggesting Poe only used it for aesthetic purposes.
However, claiming that an author who reveled in symbolism and metaphor simply added in colors for decoration instead of a real purpose seems just as foolish as claiming that director Mike Flanagan did the same thing with his colored death scenes in The Fall of the House of Usher. Each of the Usher children’s episodes and deaths is surrounded by specific colors, whether that be in the clothes they wear or the lighting they’re bathed in. Operating on the assumption that the colors do in fact mean something, each hue could be associated with the individual rooms in Poe’s short story. It can also be perceived that the room in Poe’s short story has connections to the seven deadly sins, which could potentially be applied to the Usher bloodline as well, enhancing the thematic and emotional connotations of each of their deaths.
Prospero Usher: Red
As the youngest Usher child and Roderick’s (Zach Gilford and Bruce Greenwood) most recent illegitimate son, Prospero (Sauriyan Sapkota) competes with his siblings’ success and concocts a proposal based on his extravagant lifestyle to try to win his father’s approval. With his episode being based on The Masque of the Red Death, it is evident that red will be his color. Clad in red sweaters and shirts while driving a red sports car, Prospero eventually throws an exclusive and decadent masquerade party where an elusive masked lady in red appears: the Red Death. Red is associated with passion and death, and there is also a connotation to the deadly sin of wrath. These elements are apparent in Prospero’s passionate thirst for vengeance as he plans a party his father explicitly forbade him to. Further connotations of disease and the fires of hell are implicit in his death scene. While in Poe’s short story, the Red Death itself is a disease that is ravaging Prince Prospero’s kingdom, in the show, acid rain is the metaphorical Red Death; the environmental disease affecting the general population. In an almost karmic act of retribution, the fiery and burning acid rains upon the high-class party-goers, melting down Prospero in a red haze.
Camille L’Espanaye: White and Baby Blue
Camille’s (Kate Siegel) life revolves around her work as the Usher family’s publicist and thus is empty of any meaningful relationships, whether that be familial or romantic. In other words, her life is devoid of color, just as her harsh white scenes are. Moreover, in Poe’s short story, the white room may symbolize the transient walk to death, perhaps reflecting Camille’s fleeting and insubstantial relationships. It also echoes her quick death in her sister’s animal testing facility, as her insides lay bare afterward in a harsh white light. As someone who excels in manipulating her family’s image, it is fitting that her color is also a reflective one. Just as white reflects light, Camille creates illusions of what her family truly is in the media, reflecting back a picture-perfect image of them. In some scenes, there is a tinge of baby blue in her color scheme, which is also the color of the deadly sin sloth – she makes no effort to invest in real relationships and instead just works with more intangible things like publicity.
Napoleon Usher: Yellow
Of all the Usher children, Napoleon (Rahul Kohli) is probably outwardly the least interested in being an Usher during the series. However, he heavily indulges in the perks that come along with it: partaking in drugs, parties, and cheating on his devoted partner. His scenes tend to be aglow with a warm yellow light and both Napoleon and Verna (Carla Gugino) wear yellow garments during his episode. Although there is no yellow room in Poe’s short story, it is a color that has been associated with the deadly sin of greed. Napoleon’s greed for maintaining his lifestyle overshadows any reservations he has towards his family, despite being vocal about them to Camille at times.
Victorine LaFourcade: Orange
Victorine (T’Nia Miller) is the first of the Usher bastards and the middle child. In both senses, she is essentially the transitionary child of the Usher family. As such, she is orange which is a transitionary color in both the color wheel and in the room in Poe’s short story. As a respected scientist in pursuit of creating a biomechanical heart that acts as an artificially intelligent pacemaker, Victorine is often garbed in muted orange and gray suits. The intermediary aspect of the color orange is also reflected in Victorine’s slow descent into madness, as she is harassed by a ticking sound that subconsciously reminds her that she killed her lover. Orange is also associated with the deadly sin of gluttony. Gluttony seems to be more suited to Napoleon’s character as he indulges in sensorial pleasures like drugs and adultery, whereas Victorine only really has greed for fame. However, in a more sickening and sadistic interpretation, you could argue that she somewhat enjoyed the sensory experience of dipping her hands into the insides of a chest and attaching mechanical equipment to a beating heart. This is emphasized in her orange-washed death scene where she plunges a knife into her stomach — a particularly intimate and sensory way to die.
Tamerlane Usher: Green
As one of the legitimate Usher children who grew up in Roderick’s wealthy household, Tamerlane (Samantha Sloyan) was exposed to the coldness of a luxurious lifestyle her whole life. Tamerlane’s wardrobe is color-coded with green, which is the room that represents the growth of youth in Poe’s story, indicating how Tamerlane’s materialistic youth has shaped her today. Throughout the series, her deeper emotions have already wasted away, causing her to spend sleepless nights crunching out numbers and finessing her business. Even in her marriage, she is unable to form meaningful connections, needing a sex worker and her husband to fulfill her intimate fantasies while she watches from the sidelines. Bold green lights invade Tamerlane’s death scene, correlating to the deadly sin of envy. Unable to feel deep emotions herself, she envies those who can, eventually driving away her husband for this reason. As such, the mirrors in her death scene reflect her insecurities and superficiality back to her, driving her into madness and then, death.
Frederick Usher: Blue and Violet
As the firstborn legitimate Usher child and thus the first child to be corrupted by Roderick’s legacy, Frederick’s (Henry Thomas) color is most fittingly blue: the color of beginnings in Poe’s short story. Blue is also the color of the deadly sin lust; however, his sexual desires aren’t really touched upon nor is it consequential in the show. Arguably, his deep blue death scene could also be seen as violet which is correlated with the deadly sin of pride. It is Frederick’s pride that drives him to neglect his daughter and torment his wife after realizing she had secretly attended Prospero’s underground party. Frederick’s violet-washed Saw-like death trap also reflects how his pride propagated his lack of work ethic and drive, leaving him lying helplessly like he is most of the season. Violet is also the color of royalty, connecting to his status as the family heir.
Lenore Usher: Black
Although Lenore (Kyliegh Curran) is an Usher grandchild, she is still part of the Usher bloodline and therefore, the family curse. As the final Usher heir to die, her black-ridden death from her clothes to her room’s wallpaper is symbolic of finality. She is the final heir to Roderick’s and Madeleine’s (Willa Fitzgerald and Mary McDonnell) empire to be taken by death and is the only one that anyone truly mourns — even Gugino’s Verna is deeply affected by Lenore’s death. As the color worn to funerals, black evokes a feeling of melancholy, an emotion that is eloquently paired with Poe’s poem “The Raven.”