“The Masque of the Red Death,” by Edgar Allan Poe
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“The Masque of the Red Death,” by Edgar Allan Poe begins with the introduction of Prospero and his kingdom which has been stricken by the Red Death. Prospero took a large amount of his healthy friends and locked them into his castle with him to protect them from the Red Death. Prospero holds a ball with his friends however, it is unexpectedly interrupted by a mysterious ghoul-like figure. Prospero attempts to remove the figure by attacking it himself which only leads to his demsie. When the people attacked the figure out of fear of what happened to Prospero they came to find it wasn’t a human under the costume at all, it was the Red Death itself. In Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death,” he used many different literary devices however, three he used more than others. Edgar used a great amount symbolism, the most important being the colored rooms, he also uses irony within his characters to bring about the death, and finally a main theme of death to tie everything together.
Edgar Allan Poe wrote stories that incorporated many different kinds of symbols, they are especially prominent in “The Masque of the Red Death.” Out of the many uses of symbolism the best use of it in this story is with the different colored rooms. Though what may seem like a minor detail at first the colored rooms yield a greater significance in the story. The rooms have been arranged in a specific color order starting with the blue room in the east working its way to the black room to the west. Through these rooms Edgar was able to symbolize the human life cycle and link it with the sun’s cycle.
Each of the rooms symbolized a different time period in human life, it began with the blue room which stood for birth and led up to the black room which stood for death: Each room, in other words, corresponds to a different “stage” of human life, which its color suggests. The first clue that the suite is allegorical is that the rooms are arranged from east to west. East is usually the direction associated with “beginnings,” and birth, because the sun rises in the east; west, the direction of the sunset, is associated with endings, and death. (David Siminoff 12) To fully incorporate this Edgar put the black room in the west and the blue room in the east and all those in between to show the link between life and death and how it is all just a cycle. Prospero follows this cycle when he chases the Red Death from the blue room to the black room and dies when he reaches the black room.
Death is, quite simply, the main theme behind Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of Red Death.” This is most seen through the symbol of the colored rooms, especially the black room. Edgar intentionally focused on how the black room symbolized death he describes it here when he is introducing the rooms. “In the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all” (Edgar Allan Poe 32). Humans naturally fear death, so the fear of the black room from the people shows how it can resemble death itself. This theme also heavily shows throughout the rest of the story. Edgar incorporates this theme into the ending of the story especially when the people begin to chase death into the black room. Prospero, as well as his guests, all perish from the Red Death whenever they entered the black room.
Another important factor in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of Red Death,” is the factor of irony. It plays a major role in this story and it involves Prospero. Edgar made Prospero as an obvious allusion to the word prosperity. In the beginning of the short story Prospero begins as a very prosperous and wealthy young man. However, this is his one major flaw. Prospero is too prosperous to the point where he become selfish and greedy, he locks out the poor sick people and refuses to help them, all to save himself. Edgar is able to use this flaw to creat irony later in the story when the Red Death is introduced as an almost tangible being. The Red Death is able to sneak into Prospero’s ball and he is able to roam about freely defying Prospero’s rule and prosperity. The Red Death is then able to kill the “most prosperous” man in the kingdom in a matter of seconds. Although Prospero thinks he is wealthy enough to escape death, he isn’t (Grant Heineken 20).
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” is a very deep story, a lot of which is seen beneath the surface. In other words Edgar relies heavily on symbolism in his stories which is clearly shown in this essay. With his heavy symbolism he ties it all together with one main theme, this theme being death. And last but not least he incorporates irony in order to add continuity as well as to help reveal the theme. These three literary devices of symbolism, theme, and irony are the most prominent literary devices used in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”
Coy Reaper. “Unmasque-ing the Red Death,” SSF 25 (1988) 319; “Meaning and ‘The Masque of the Red Death’,” TSE 13 (1963) 67. Heineken, Grant. “The Masque of the Red Death Analysis.” English Literary Devices. Grant Heineken, 21 Mar. 2005. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Masque of the Red Death. Providence, RI: Jamestown, 1982. Print. Shmoop Editorial Team. “The Masque of the Red Death Analysis.” Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.