Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Masque of the Red Death” is one of the more famous works of the author. It tells the story of a grotesque plague that is sweeping the land. Instead of dealing with it, Prince Prospero gathers a thousand of his friends and travels to a special, well-secured palace to forget about the plague. They dance, drink, and relax until one masquerade ends with the personification of the Red Death arriving to kill Prospero and his friends. The story concludes with the plague wiping out all life on Earth. This paper will provide an analysis of various literary elements of “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe.
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The tone of the story can be seen in a different light, depending on the reader. For example, the story could be read in a bitter and judgmental tone. The author clearly despises the characters of the story and sees their punishment as just. However, it could also be read in a more ironic tone. Despite the suggestion that Prince Prospero is a heartless fool, Poe uses statements that are not inherently negative to describe his plan. At the same time, the actions of the mysterious guest are described just as neutrally. In either tone, the ending of the story feels like a just conclusion for this world and the failure of Prospero’s plan as karmic revenge for his selfishness. The story is set in a large palace. It is surrounded by a sturdy wall with metal doors sealed shut. The main set piece of the story takes place in a series of interconnected ballrooms, which are defined by the colors they are decorated with. A surprisingly large portion of the story is taken up by the description of these nearly identical colored rooms. The colors of the rooms are not used literally in the story, which suggests a deeper meaning behind them.
One of the primary goals for writing this poem was to show the upper class that there is no escape from death, especially the one that comes with the disease. Medicine at the time was largely speculative and relied on solutions that could bring more suffering than healing. When this fact is combined with the horror of international plagues, it becomes clear that sooner or later, everyone might become infected. The second goal was to show how the selfishness of the upper classes may lead to the complete extinction of humanity. By leaving the world outside the walls of his palace, Prospero doomed all of his remaining people.
He and his friends were engaged in hedonistic behavior rather than trying to find a solution to this issue, and the hedonistic behavior eventually led to their death. The topic of figurative language in the works of Poe is slightly controversial because, as an author, he disliked didacticism in literature. However, it is possible to interpret the colored rooms as parts of a human mind. In this reading, the black room with the red window could be an allegory to thoughts about death. All of the guests avoid it, despite it having no obvious danger. It is also the location of a large black clock that could signify the remaining days of the person among the living. This is also the room where Prospero meets his literal death, supposedly at the hands of the personified Red Death.
The character of Red Death is a clear representation of death as a whole. Despite the connection to the fictional disease, it could be used on its own in a different story as a general figure of mortality. As previously mentioned, the darkly colored room is likely to be a symbol of death as well, or perhaps decay due to the presence of the clock. The last line could be taken literally in this case, with the symbol of decay and death ruling everything that is left of the world. The primary theme of the story is mortality. Even with the best advances of modern medicine, people are still able to succumb to illness, despite their money and status. The same could be said about epidemics and pandemics. People are mortal, and death is inevitable. The fear that this fact brings may lead people to do everything in their power to prevent it, but it will be there in the end. It is a common theme for Gothic horror, and “The Masque of the Red Death” is one of the exemplary works of the genre.
Poe is famous for his works in the Gothic genre. This story holds the majority of elements that make up the best Gothic stories: a dark and oppressive setting, slightly bitter tone, grotesque horror, possible supernatural elements, and a dark ending with no hope in sight. Poe has created one of the most influential stories about human mortality, which is still relevant to this day. Even hundreds of years in the future, people will still be afraid of death, and this story will continue to resonate with its readers.