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Human Mortality in Masque of Red Death

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Human Mortality in "The Masque of Red Death"

As a gothic writer, Edgar Allan Poe created horror using gloom as his weapon. Hidden within the suspenseful story of "The Masque of Red Death" is an allegorical tale of how individuals deal with the fear of death as time passes. Frantic activities and pleasures (as represented by Prince Prospero and his guests) seek to wall out the threat of death. However, the story reminds the reader that death comes "like a thief in the night"(Poe 3), and even those who seek peace and safety shall not escape. Poe uses symbolism to illustrate that man cannot hide from his own mortality.

David R. Dudley states that "the Red Death symbolizes death in general" (Dudley 169). This can be assumed by the nature of the disease. No cure could be found for the Red Death and all whom obtained it eventually died. Also, the fact that the Red Death contains the word death directly connects the two. This connection clearly suggests that the Red Death symbolizes death. Knowing that, the fortress that Prince Prospero designed to separate himself and his guests from the Red Death symbolizes his human desire to escape death. Just as humans attempt to avoid the topic of death with material goods and busyness, the prince provides his guests with "all the appliances of pleasure."(Poe 1) Yet despite all of these precautions, death rules over all as the Red Death is able to sneak into the fortress and claim every life within it. Liz Brent states the entire masquerade ball "can be read as an allegory for the ways in which humans attempt to distract themselves from thoughts of their own mortality by indulging in earthly pleasures" (Brent 242). The guest's isolation gave them a life of false security and their superficial pleasures distracted them from the contemplation of death. By focusing on their own need for entertainment, they were able to ignore the devastation occurring outside of their walls.

Poe used the rooms of the fortress as a symbol of the progression of a human life. The fortresses design contains seven distinctly different rooms. H.H. Bell, Jr., an expert on Edgar Allan Poe, has suggested that Poe seems to represent these rooms as an "allegorical representation of Prince Prospero's life span" (Bell 241). The greatest piece of evidence for this is the order in which Poe arranged the rooms. The first room is positioned in the far eastern side of the mansion and the last room's placement resides in the far western side. Just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west each day, the arrangement of the rooms suggests the beginning and the end of life. Poe exemplifies this idea with the coloration of the last room. Black, a color connected with night and death, covers the walls in the last room. Also, the color of red seeps through the stained glass windows representing the bloodiness often incorporated with death, particularly the Red Death so feared at this party. Prospero's guests avoid the last room out of fear, just as the living avoid reminders of death. Meanwhile, music and dancing occurred nearby as all of the other rooms "beat feverishly with life" (Poe 2). Poe cleverly created a setting that showed how the people do not believe their death was imminent until later stages of life.

Poe used many devices to connect the passage of time with the inevitability of death.



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