The Masque of the Red Death

“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe

Historically, American literature has had a lot of writers that created different short stories and novels discussing various aspects of life. One of the most interesting representatives is Edgar Allan Poe, whose artistic legacy dates back to the 19th century. He is well-known for short stories and poems that have an atmosphere of mystery and romance as well as a specific set of principles that discuss human destiny. In this sense, one of the best examples of his writings is “The Masque of the Red Death”, which is a short story that belongs to the genre of gothic fiction. This paper analyzes this short story by Edgar Allan Poe and focuses on the major aspects that define its genre and serve to intensify the atmosphere and the impact on the reader. The author vividly uses a unity of allegories, epithets, and metaphors in order to create a mystic story that has a hidden moral lesson on the inevitability of death. Moreover, one can apply the lesson of the story to modern life stating that human values are more important than prosperity as they can save a person instead of letting one helplessly die surrounded by luxury.

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“The Masque of the Red Death” is a short story that discusses an outbreak of a fictitious lethal disease that resembles plague and devastates the population of an unknown country. The author involves a description of the symptoms of the disease in order to horrify the reader, “There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution” (Poe). Moreover, individuals that are unlucky to be infected are rejected by the society, “The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men” (Poe). Possibly, the author was inspired by the descriptions of such diseases as the Black Death and Hansen’s disease, both of which were extremely lethal and caused a panic among those who observed their symptoms. However, despite the outbreak of the Red Death, there are citizens that enjoy their lives and are not interested in treating their infected counterparts. Among these is Prince Prospero, the head of the country, who is “happy and dauntless and sagacious” and decides to have a large party with his friends “when his dominions were half depopulated” (Poe). Having about a thousand of friends at his castellated abbey, Prince Prospero enjoys the pleasures of a luxurious life thinking that such luxurious incarceration cannot let the disease come. The climax of the story is the arrival of a stranger that dares to insult them with a “blasphemous mockery” of having a mask and a costume of the Red Death (Poe). The Prince is outraged and wants to seize the stranger and hang him at sunrise. However, as he approaches the stranger his morbid corpse falls to the ground of the black-colored room that has been too grim for his associates to enter. It turns out that the stranger is not a person but the Red Death itself that decided to make a personal visit coming as “a thief in the night” (Poe). As a result, the luxurious and protected place full of merry people fills with dead corpses, indicating the beginning of “Darkness and Decay” as “the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all” (Poe). Therefore, the author’s talent allowed creating a mysterious plot that is intensified by numerous stylistic means making it a perfect gothic fiction story.

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The Analysis of “The Masque of the Red Death”

It is important to note that the author achieves a resemblance of “The Masque of the Red Death” with classical gothic fiction because of the usage of different stylistic components that draw from the reader’s fear of the unknown. Similarly, the scholars claim that one of the core indicators of this genre is “the conflict between human aspiration and the prohibitive forces of destiny” (Howells 140). Thus, the Prince Prospero pursues joy and happiness that grows to an almost sarcastic scale, but then faces the inevitable force of life the outcome of which is death. Grotesque is also one of the features that are present in traditional gothic stories that represent medieval atmosphere (Phillips). Similarly, the writing strategy used by Edgar Allan Poe has elements that are the temporary constituents of the genre of gothic fiction. Among them, the critics name signifiers of critical interconnection between the familiar and the bizarre that leads to various interpretations and revisionary readings (Howells). The interpretive aspect of “The Masque of the Red Death” has a rich basis because of various stylistic elements that create a specific feeling of the setting that has different symbolic elements.

The author’s language is rich with different allegories, comparisons, epithets, and metaphors that allow the reader to observe the setting of the story in detail. For example, a significant part of the story is devoted to depicting the interior of the abbey that has different vividly decorated luxurious rooms and halls. In this sense, the author focuses the attention of the reader on seven rooms that are decorated in different ways. Each of them is fashionable and has a variety of tapestries, ornaments, panels and windows, but the last one deserves particular attention. It has panels of “a deep blood color” and the color of its windows fails to correspond with the decorations (Poe). The bloody image of this apartment and the reflection of firelight on its walls alarm the visitors which is why they refuse to enter. The author also uses the image of blood to intensify the image of horror as it is one of the signs that one is infected with the Red Death. Moreover, this apartment has a mysterious ebony clock that is an allegory of the inevitability of fate. In order to intensify this feeling, Edgar Allan Poe characterizes its pendulum as having “a dull, heavy, monotonous clang” (Poe) as a merciless warder of doom. Similarly, the author gives special attention to the sound of the clock that is clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause … and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation. (Poe)

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Therefore, the blood red apartment is the one that has an atmosphere of mystery and serves as the epicenter of horror and radiating negative feelings. Consequently, the author intensifies the feeling of inevitability and mystery by uniting different components such as “the deadly approach of a terrible pendulum, … the awful end of an ancient and noble house, and … the impossible beating of a dead heart” (Poe). Similarly, inevitability and the fear of the unknown are associated with the stranger that comes to the organized masquerade in an extremely lifelike costume of the Red Death.

Furthermore, the climax of the story is the clash of the inevitable unknown and the wish of the Prince to control one’s possessions. The name of the Prince Prospero is symbolic and refers to prosperity that controls the world of material things. Thus, his wish of control ascends to the scale that he wants to live a joyful life without a lethal disease despite the fact that the Red Death cannot be controlled. Thus, coming as a thief in the night, this disease demonstrates that the world of material things is fragile because there is always a time for death. The steps of the stranger boom with the strikes of the pendulum and the Prince cannot avoid dying in the room associated with mystery and fear. Thus, an assembly of decorated luxurious phantasms (Poe) is completely useless when the time of death comes. This horrible but universal truth should be accepted and constitutes the moral of the story, which is no matter how rich one is the prosperity cannot withstand death. This aspect is also relevant to modern life because there are people that live luxurious lives and die of cancer and other diseases instead of supporting the scientists’ attempts of finding the cure.

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Just as Prince Prospero, they enjoy their rich lives at the time their poorer counterparts die in the streets of hunger and diseases. However, Edgar Allan Poe vividly demonstrates that no matter how rich a person is, he or she will face death, which is why people have to help each other instead of disconnecting.


To summarize, the paper concludes that “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe is an allegoric piece of gothic literature that has an implicit moral context about the inevitability of death. The author artistically created the feeling of luxury and wealth when describing the setting of the story. Moreover, he used different stylistic means such as epithets, metaphors, and allegories in order to stimulate the reader’s fear of the unknown. At the same time, the climax of the story is a classical element of gothic contrast between human aspirations and the inevitable fate. Lastly, the analyzed short story by Edgar Allan Poe has an implicit moral which is no matter how rich a person is their death would come anyway. This moral is relevant nowadays because there are people that live luxurious lives disconnecting from their counterparts suffering from hunger and diseases. Therefore, people should support each other because there are inevitable natural circumstances, which cannot be avoided due to prosperity.


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