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The Masque of the Red Death
Transcript of The Masque of the Red Death
A bloody disease called the Red Death ravages a kingdom. Prince
Prospero retreats to his castle and throws a lavish masquerade ball to lift his spirits. At midnight, a mysterious guest arrives and, as the embodiment of the Red Death, kills Prospero and all his guests.
Allegory-a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.
"The Masque of the Red Death" is an allegory. It features a set of recognizable symbols whose meanings combine to convey a message. An allegory always operates on two levels of meaning: the literal elements of the plot and their symbolic counterparts, which often involve large philosophical concepts. This story can be read as an allegory about life and death and the powerlessness of humans to evade the grip of death.
Prince Prospero - A wealthy nobleman and the ultimate victim of the Red Death. Prince Prospero's wealth turns out to be irrelevant in the natural cycle of life and death.
Mysterious guest - The embodiment of the Red Death.
-The 7 rooms
Each color of the seven rooms symbolizes a stage of life. Overall, the suite works as an allegory of human life. Each room corresponds to a
different "stage" of human life, which its color suggests. The first clue that the suite is allegorical is that the rooms are arranged from east to west. East is usually the direction associated with "beginnings," and birth, because the sun rises in the east; west (the direction of the sunset) is associated with endings and death.
The Blue Room
The blue room, which is furthest to the east, may represent birth.
The Purple Room
The next room is purple, a combination of blue (birth) and red (associated with life, intensity) suggests the beginnings of growth.
The Green Room
Green, the next color, suggests the "spring" of life (youth).
The Orange Room
Orange, the next room, may represent the summer and autumn of life.
The White Room
White, the next color, suggests age - white hair, and bones.
The Violet Room
Violet (a combination of purple and blue, or purple and grey) is a
shadowy color, and represents darkness and death.
The Black Room
And black, obviously, is death.
Also, notice how there's no red room. Poe probably wanted to save the color red in this story especially for its association with blood,
fear, and death. That means it's always goes with black, just like the
Red Death and the darkness go together at the end of the story, and
red and black go together in the seventh room. If there were a red
room, it would confuse the color system and obscure the meaning of
Now another interesting thing about the allegorical reading of the rooms is that it gives an added meaning to other pieces of the story.
The fact that the revelers don't go into the black room indicates their fear of death. But besides that, remember that the Red Death walks from the blue room to the black room - it walks the course of life, leading from birth to death. Prospero follows that course when he chases it: he runs from the blue room to the black room, where he dies. His followers also rush into the black room to unmask the Red Death, and also die. So the course the characters walk in the story is both literally and metaphorically the course from life to death.
The big, black clock is located in the black room, so it's not that hard to guess that it's meant to be a symbol of death. More precisely, it's a symbol of the passing of "the Time that flies," and the inevitability of death. Its eerie chiming on the hour is a regular reminder to the revelers that their lives are drifting away with the time, and that death is approaching. Of course, the effect is enhanced even more by that way the clock has of stopping all the dancing and music - in short, all the life - of the party, and making everyone laugh nervously.
The Red Death
The disease called the Red Death is fictitious. Poe describes it as causing "sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores" leading to death within half an hour.
It is likely that the disease was inspired by tuberculosis (or consumption, as it was known then), since Poe's wife Virginia was suffering from the disease at the time the story was written. Like the character of Prince Prospero, Poe tried to ignore the fatality of the disease. Poe's mother, brother, and foster mother had also died of tuberculosis.
Alternatively, the Red Death may refer to cholera; Poe
would have witnessed an epidemic of cholera in Baltimore, Maryland in 1831. Others have suggested that the plague is actually the Bubonic plague or the Black death, emphasized by the climax of the story featuring the "Red" Death in the "black" room. It has also been suggested that the Red Death is not a disease or sickness at all but a weakness (like "original sin") that is shared by all of humankind inherently.
The story is set up in the first two paragraphs. First, we meet the
Red Death, the horrible, hideous, loathsome disease that's ravaging
the countryside. Then we meet Prince Prospero, whose countryside and peasant folk that are being ravaged. Prince Prospero has retreated to his castellated abbey and shut himself in with his friends.
Prospero's decision to throw a masquerade ball is what kicks off the action of the story, and tension builds as we learn the details of the
A creepy new guest mysteriously shows up in a Red Death costume and starts stalking around at midnight, no less. At this point, the
tension is thick. Everybody's scared, but it's uncertain as to what
will happen. Prospero orders the guest arrested but nobody dares to
take a step, including Prospero himself. The guest makes his way
ominously to the black room.
Prince Prospero faces death and dies. Prospero's charge after the
"spectral figure" brings the story to its highest moment of tension:
the moment of epic confrontation, when the Red Death turns around to
face Prospero. It doesn't last long, since Prospero falls down and
The outraged revelers to discover that the guy in the Red Death
costume who just killed their Prince. Then, everyone begins to die.
Their blood covers the prince's beautiful fabrics. The revelers die,
the clock dies, the candles die, and the party's over. And so is the
"And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."