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The Inevitability Of The Red Death

1937 words - 8 pages

The Inevitability of the Red Death
Edgar Allen Poe's “The Masque of the Red Death” is an extravagant allegory of the futility of trying to escape death. In the story, a prince named Prospero tries to avoid the Red Death through isolation and seclusion. He hides behind the impenetrable walls of his castle and turns his back on the rest of the world. But no walls can stop death because it is unavoidable and inevitable. Through the use of character, setting, point of view, and symbol, Poe reveals the theme that no one, regardless of status, wealth or power can stay the passing of time and the inevitable conclusion of life itself, death.
Like many of Poe’s works, the number of ...view middle of the document...

At midnight, as the revelers stand rigid with fear, the Masked Figure appears among the guests. Poe goes to great lengths to describe the difference in appearance of this masked stranger from the party goers. Eventually the stranger is revealed to the reader as the Red Death. However one cannot see a disease, only its physical manifestations. That the figure is merely an aberration is suggested by the emptiness or the lack of “tangible form” (Poe, 390) that the revelers find in ripping off its “corpse like mask” (Poe, 390). As Wheat points out, “It is obviously fruitless to try to seize, unmask, and hang a personification of death” (55). The appearance and final victory of the Red Death further enforces the theme that death is inescapable.
The story is set in an unspecified year and in an unnamed land. The land has been ravaged by a horrible “pestilence” (Poe, 386) that has destroyed half of its inhabitants. After this dreadful description of the population’s doom, Poe introduces the reader to a new world, that of Prince Prospero. The prince is determined to survive the plague and retreats to one of his “castellated abbeys” (Poe, 386) with a thousand of the kingdom’s most healthy and enthusiastic. The abbey has been well stocked with provisions for all. Its walls are tall and strong, and its iron gates are welded shut to prevent both entry and escape. About six months into his seclusion, Prince Prospero, confident of his survival, decides to celebrate by throwing a masquerade ball. The gala takes place in the seven apartments of the imperial suite. Poe goes through great effort to detail and describe each of the rooms and the lavishness of their furnishings. In the end the Red Death will kill the prince and his friends, ridiculing them by showing that the strong walls of the castle could not protect them from Death. The strength of the abbey and the opulence of the apartments reinforce the theme by setting the story in a place where it is conceivable that those inside could escape any attack from outside of it.
The anonymous narrators in Poe’s fiction are the subject of much debate and are often considered of questionable character (Cassuto, 317). The nameless narrator in “The Masque of the Red Death” is no different. The story is told mostly from the point of view of a narrator who seems to have observed firsthand the happenings of the story and is recounting the tale. This is important because the story concludes with the death of Prospero and all one thousand of his guests. Effectively, there could be no survivors; any eyewitnesses to the events of the ball would be dead as well. However, the narrator gives the reader several clues to his identity, by using first person language on three occasions. First is in his description of the scene of the masquerade: “But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held” (Poe, 386). Second is his description of the pause at midnight: “And then the music ceased, as I have told; and...

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