Good The Masque Of The Red Death By Edgar Allan Poe Literature Review Example

Type of paper: Literature Review

Topic: Death, Life, Literature, Room, People, Terror, Horror, Terrorism

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2021/02/09

Among the greatest American writers during the Romantic period is Edgar Allan Poe. “He is best known for his tales of horror and terror that feature premature burial, alcoholism, mysterious women, morbid death and other darkness of life.” (Yanak and Cornelison) His contemporaries and writers of the succeeding era were influenced by his style while his tales of terror became a favorite subject of modern films. His literary works are usually representations of the dark workings of the inner mind of man that is filled with suspense, terror, and horror. A few of his remarkable works are “Cask of Amontillado,” “The Black Cat,” “Fall of the House of Usher,” and “The Masque of the Red Death.” “The Masque of the Red Death” can be considered as a science fiction of the old century as it presents the gruesome death of people in a fictional place caused by a plague called “Red Death.” In this short story, Poe explores the randomness of life where death can be everyone’s visitor, regardless of physical barriers and high economic status. This paper will analyse the characters as well as discuss the symbolism and imagery embodied in Poe’s masterpiece.
Poe’s "The Masque of the Red Death” stresses the reality that death is an inevitable part of human existence. The introductory paragraph in the short story describes how the Red Death had been devastating the country for a very long time. The narrator tells the readers that this plague is the most fatal disease in their history. He says that “the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.” (Poe p.1) This description shows how immediate the disease kills, as one can die in a matter of 30 seconds. Poe employs vivid language in describing the nature and the effect of the disease. He uses disturbing and alarming adjectives, such as “profuse bleeding, sharp pains, hideous and horror of blood.” (Poe p.1) These words are meant to invoke the feeling of horror among the readers, as well as provide a detailed description of the palgue’s gruesome symptoms.
After describing how fatal “Red Death” is, Poe introduces the character of Prince Prospero. The name Prospero contrasts the melancholic nature of death as it signifies wealth. When the people comprising half of his kingdom died, he secludes himself together with his “light-hearted friends” in his “castellated abbey.” (Poe p.1) The narrator describes the magnificent strength of the abbey. “The abbey was amply provisioned” that the gates are made of iron and has all the amenities that meant to entertain the prince and his selected friends. (Poe p.1) The strong structure and beautiful decoration of the abbey bring hope to the dames, knights and the prince that they will be spared from being infected.
However, at the end of the story, Poe tells the readers that the Red Death have come like “a thief in the night.” (Poe p.5) This concluding statement emphasizes the foolishness of the people to believe that strong iron gates can defy death, and the most beautiful form of amusement can make them forget about the harsh reality of death. Prospero and his chosen friends hope that the abbey can save them from death, but their wish was a complete illusion. This part of the story stresses the fact that the only certain thing in life is that one day it will end. Death is a defining feature of humanity that no physical barriers can stop. No form of entertainment can save a man from feeling the miserable pain of dying. Additionally, the abbey represents another minor concept- inequality. While Prince Prospero and the “elite” members of the kingdom manage to find a way in their quest to defer or hinder the coming of the Red Death, the rest of the people in the outside world were defenseless and died hopeless because their homes have no iron gates or strong walls that can somehow give them a bit of hope that they will survive. Nonetheless, the inhabitants in the secluded abbey have met the “Red Death” despite of their economic advantage. This scene highlights the unchangeable reality that the poor and rich will all die.
In discussing the inevitability of death, Poe uses powerful symbols that are accompanied by elaborate and vivid adjectives. The author describes the seven rooms in the abbey that symbolize the phases of life. The first room is a chamber situated in the extreme east that signifies birth and the last room is an apartment that is located in the west that symbolizes twilight or death. To note, the room is called “black chamber” where the window panes are “scarlet” - two colors that are common symbols of death. Furthermore, the “Red Death” that conceals itself through a mask enters the first room that implies life’s beginning then proceeds to the seventh room that represents life’s end. His appearance from the first to the seventh room happened in minutes which is a representation of man’s limited journey through life. Another symbol that Poe employs to suggest the quick passing of time is the black clock. “There came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was 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” (Poe p.2). The ticking of the black clock implies the unannounced arrival of death at any minute.
At the near end of the story, Poe exposes man’s attitude towards death- defiant, fearful and indignant. At the sight of the masked stranger, Prince Prospero gets annoyed and says, “"who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him --that we may know whom we have to hang at sunrise, from the battlements!” (Poe p.4) Prospero’s dialogue faithfully represents man’s annoyance to the idea of death as they view it as unfair. In an act of defiance as most people do when they are confronted with the thought of dying, the prince rushes to the “Red Death” to strike it with a dagger. But before he can draw the dagger, he falls to the ground and dies. This scene symbolizes the powerlessness of man against death that even the boldest of courage would not stop death from claiming someone’s life. Unlike Prince Prospero who is defiant, the rest of the courtiers were pale because they fear dying. “None followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all.” (Poe p.4) The courtier’s reaction at the presence of the “Red Death” mirrors a realistic scenario- man’s intense fear of death.
The concluding sentence of Poe’s short story summarizes his message. He writes “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” (Poe p.5) This dialogue suggests that death is inevitable, unexpected and universal. Every one, regardless of whether they are secluded by high walls or have all the money in the world would experience death- in a time where they least expect it. The only difference is how they would deal would it. Poe suggests that while others embrace death with resigned passivity, most people would deal with it in extreme fear and only few would face it with courage. “The Masque of the Red Death” is a beautiful and useful piece of literature because it tackles one aspect of human condition that may enlighten the readers to examine their attitude towards life and death. It is a work of art that reminds every reader about the randomness of life, the inevitability of death and the powerlessness of man to defy or escape death.

Work Cited

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe. Web. 1 April 2015. <>
Yanak, Ted, and Pam Cornelison. "Poe, Edgar Allan." The Great American History Fact-Finder. Dec. 1 1993: n.p.

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