Red Death

Edgar Allan Poe’s short story entitled The Mask of the Red Death is an
artistic example of vivid symbolism. Throughout the sinister tale Poe writes
in a style that appeals to all five senses and captivates the reader’s
curiosity until the story’s dour conclusion. Upon first glance, the story
seems to be a complex tale of good versus evil. If the reader were to examine
the story more deeply, they would then discover that the plot and symbolism
intertwined throughout the narrative is no more than a simple metaphor for
life and death.

A quick synopsis of the story tells the account of the affluent and overly
confident Prince Prospero and his faulted attempt to escape death. Poe
illustrates that Prospero is blinded by his riches and believes that he can
escape death. A heavy dose of figurative language is used to create a
struggle in which the mood goes from elation to somberness in just a mere
three pages.

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The characters of the story are well defined in that the reader can
ascertain certain traits, good or bad, of the characters. For instance, Poe
writes, “When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence
a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of
his court.” (Poe 41) This line identifies the Prince as a smug, insecure, and
even foolish character all while foreshadowing a dark conclusion. These lines
identify the Prince as the axis of the story by illustrating a few of his
erroneous values and generates the story’s dilemma.

The symbolism in the story adds to the chaos of the Prince’s impending
doom. “But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were
seven.that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its
precincts at all.It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the
western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony.” (Poe 41-42) In these lines Poe uses
more descriptive language to relay to the reader that the Prince is
outmatched. The colors give symbolism to the rooms and inform the reader,
before the Prince, that death is inescapable.

The symbolism of the colors described produces a timeline of events
only equivalent to human life. The story follows the course of a human life,
most likely the Prince Prospero’s, and end ends with Death. Poe’s creation of
a Red Death is an anomaly in that red is usually considered the color of life,
yet here it is represented as the mark of death and thus brings the story full
circle. In essence, a huge metaphor is created to show the ignorance of the
rich (represented by the Prince) to escape man’s destiny (represented by The
Masque of the Red Death).

Based on what I know of Edgar Allan Poe’s life, it seems to me that
this is the most logical theory as to what the story represents. History
paints Poe as a depressed, angry, and spiteful man, and in my opinion this
story reflects it. It’s amazing how Poe found a way not only to define his
characters but also incorporate what his feelings were into his work.


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