In The Fall of the House of Usher, Madeline Usher is put in the vault for a week, without food or water, in a coffin. This is in addition to the fact that she had been sick, and so wasn't at her healthiest then.

How did she survive without food and water?

  • 2
    Hmm. There are different opinions on how to read some of Poe's works; a super-rational teacher of mine didn't believe in ghosts or supernatural occurrences, and so refused to read any of that into Poe or Shakespeare, sometimes going very far out of his way to do so. I don't know what he would do with "Usher" (and I haven't read it in a while), but must every piece of the story be realistic?
    – Shokhet
    Jul 2, 2017 at 16:44

1 Answer 1


The human body can survive for a pretty long time without food or water. A famous example, Mahatma Gandhi, survived 21 days with only small sips of water.

However, that's with a bit of water. According to Scientific American, the human body can last (on average) around a hundred hours without water, at the far end.

However, this depends on the temperature, humidity, and other environmental factors. Madeline was put into a tomb underground, where I assume it was cold and damp. There was a storm outside, so that wouldn't help. Maybe she was in a tomb instead of an actual coffin?

When Madeline's body had been placed in a coffin, Usher and I alone carried it to it's temporary tomb. This was a vault, or compartment, in the foundation walls of the mansion. It was small, damp, and without any light. It was directly under the room in which I was staying.

It's highly unlikely she'd be able to survive without any water for 7 days, even in those conditions however. It's more likely that there was a small trickle or pool of water in the tomb and that she wasn't confined to a coffin.

TL;DR: Not really feasible, she had to have some water. Either Poe made a mistake, this is a different universe, or Madeline became some sort of zombie who didn't need water.

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    She was in a coffin in a tomb. We placed our mournful burden upon wooden stands inside the vault. The coffin lid was not yet fastened...
    – Mithical
    Jan 19, 2017 at 5:56
  • @Mithrandir <shrug> I mean, it's not really humanly possible for her to survive that long.
    – user72
    Jan 19, 2017 at 14:30
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    I've downvoted this answer for: (1) trying to impose real-world science on a story which is, at least IMO, clearly supernatural; your only nod to this is when you mention the possibility that she "became some sort of zombie", but only after that "Poe made a mistake"; (2) you clearly haven't read the story carefully - or even your own quote from it - if you're uncertain about whether or not she was in a coffin; (3) your quote is from some bastardised retelling; never try to do literary analysis without the original text.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 4, 2017 at 17:14

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