The Masque of the Red Death is a somber tale that takes place in an imaginary land whose inhabitants die of a mysterious contagion that leaves a red stain on the faces of the victims. Prince Prospero abandons his citizens and with a selected thousand friends takes refuge in a “castellated abbey”. This strange residence has seven rooms of different colors with the seventh completely in black with window panes of a deep red blood and an ebony clock whose hourly ringing casts an eerie sensation on his guests. One day he decides to have a masked party and while the feasting is in full swing there appears an uninvited guest disguised with a terrible masque and the characteristic red stain. Neither his servants nor his guests are unable to capture this perplexing figure but when Prince Prospero ashamed runs after him it slowly slips through the seven doors. When the prince encounters this strange person he drops down dead and the guests while grappling the unknown visitor realize there is nothing underneath the mask and slowly they fall down lifeless whereas the ebony clock stops chiming when the last person succumbs to death.
Edgar Allan Poe was the master of gothic fiction with supernatural visitations and in his works employs a language to touch the human spirit and awaken it to the mystery of life. This tale illustrates man’s incapacity to avoid death and the vanity of trying to circumvent mortal destruction. Death is everywhere in the story for it begins with the plague and ends with the total elimination of the prince and his guests. The author also creates a growing sense of fear and dread from the very beginning of the narration and describes this contagion “the “RED DEATH” that had long devastated the country… Blood was its Avatar and its seal- the redness and the horror of blood”. These lines create a growing sense of dread and as a master of this genre Poe was renowned for his unique theory of writing and hence carefully exploits his words to create an “effect” of intense feeling in the reader. The symbol of the seven colored rooms with the first one positioned in the east and the seventh to the west epitomizes the beginning and end of life. As for the last room painted black with “the panes here were scarlet-a deep blood color” personified the Red Death that was ravaging the land.
Poe exploits symbols in his writing to display his views on life, religion, love, and death and in this excellent story the representation of the masquerade is very important for it helps the participants to hide their true identities. Poe uses this imagery to illustrate the joyful and jubilant guests who are anxious and suspicious inside except the revelers underneath their masks feel they can cheat death. This is the main theme for the title of the short story is in itself a play on words; the fear of the unknown. Critics have interpreted the seven rooms as the seven stages of man and also as the illustration of the seven capital sins although the direction of the rooms is intriguing. Furthermore the symbol of the ebony clock is essential in the story’s plot for when it strikes the hour the guests stop their reveling and become quiet and still. This explains the presence of death and when ultimately the masked mysterious figure appears the partygoers fall despairing and dying on the floor. All these symbols join together to constitute the finale. The title of the story is both a reaction to fear and ignorance of death and thus Poe’s representation of symbolism in “The Red Masque of Death” renders the story a masterpiece of gothic literature.
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