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Symbolism in the Masque of the Red Death

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Arrogance Kills

Edgar Allen Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" is a typical dark Poe story, but it contains some unique themes and symbolism. In the story a disease known as the Red Death is ravaging the fictional place where the story is set, and it causes its victims to die quickly and painfully. Even though this disease is spreading rampantly, the prince, Prospero, does not care. He decides to lock the gates of his palace in order to keep away from the plague, ignoring the illness that is ravaging the land. Although he possesses the wealth to assist his people, he uses his wealth to protect all the rich people (Poe 386). This story is full of multilayered symbolism and allegory for how Poe viewed life and America in general.

After several months, he throws a fancy masquerade ball. For this celebration, he decorates the rooms of his house in single colors. The easternmost room is decorated in blue, with blue stained-glass windows. Purple walls and matching stained glass adorn the next room. Each room, continuing westward, follows in the same fashion in the colors: green, orange, white, and violet. The seventh room is black, with red windows. In this room is a huge ebony clock. When the clock rings each hour, its sound is so loud and distracting that everyone stops talking and the orchestra stops playing. When the clock is not sounding, the party is swinging. Most guests, however, fear and avoid the black room. His selfishness in throwing the masquerade ball unwittingly positions him as a caged animal, with no possible escape (Poe 388).

The colors of the rooms represent the stages of life. He also makes it a point to arrange the rooms running from east to west. This represents the cycle of a day, because the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, with night representing death. Poe makes the last, black room, as the endpoint, the room the guests fear just as they fear death. The clock that is in there also reminds the guests that death is always a second, a minute, an hour closer. Also, the fact that it is a costume party allows their fear of the red death to be made into a party theme of sorts.

At midnight a new guest appears, dressed more eerily than the rest of the guests. His mask looks like the face of a corpse, he is wearing a funeral shroud, and his face has spots of blood like the victims of the Red Death. Prospero gets mad that someone would be so audacious as to mock him like that. The other guests are so scared that they don't stop the new guest and allow him to walk all the way to the black room. Prospero finally catches up to the new guest in the black room. As soon as he confronts the new guest, Prospero dies.

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