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Examine the ways in which Poe creates a successful allegory in “The Masque of The Red Death.”
The short story, “The Masque of The Red Death” is written by an American called Edgar Allan Poe. He was a gothic writer1850’s. This particular story is about Prince Prospero, a prince of a devastated country. Almost everyone there is dying from a disease known as the Red death so he tries to hide from it in his castle thinking he is safe. He uses effective symbolism creating a successful allegory in his short story.
The main character in “The Masque of The Red Death” is a Prince called Prospero. Prince Prospero is shown like a selfish person as he was “happy and dauntless while the Red Death has “devastated his country”. However, it does make him seem powerful and well protected as he, has managed to escape from the Red Death, for the moment. He seems to be a very wealthy prince as his castle consists of “seven imperial suites” and “long and straight” rooms.
Deeper into the story, he seems slightly more humane but still heartless as he invites only a select group to stay in his castle with him. The heartless thing about that is he only invited a few people and it was for his entertainment, not for their own safety. He leaves everyone else to die, hopelessly.
Eventually the Red Death does get to him and I think that the author did this to pass on a message to us. I think that Poe’s message is that, no matter how rich you are or how bold you are, you can’t escape death, just like Prospero. He might also be against poverty and wants equality and wants the gap between the poor and rich to close in. In his days, the Victorian times, the gap between the rich and poor was very wide.
The name Prospero sounds similar to the word “Prosperous,” which is what he is.
The rooms show Prince Prospero’s wealth, as he has “seven……imperial suites.” However they are not ordinary suites, his suits, unlike anywhere else, “form a long and straight vista” which shows uniqueness in his palace. Just owning a castle shows great wealth and to be able to serve one hundred people, like Prospero shows great wealth.
There are seven consecutive suites, so if you want to go to the seventh suite, you need to go through all of the ones in front and there is only one door leading from the each suite to the next. After each suite, there is a “sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards.” They seem mysterious and also secretive as you can’t fully see into the next room. The fact that you can anything you want there would seem appalling to Victorians. They all followed strict rules and manners.
The rooms range in colour from blue to Black. Each room has a different colour scheme but the colours get darker as guests go through. The main thing the rooms symbolise is the journey of life with death, the black room at the end. Another piece of evidence, apart from the colours of the room, is that the rooms go from East to West. This is the journey of the sun. without the sun, there is no life, therefore the black room represents death.
The black room is “ghastly……..and extreme” with its “blood-tinted panes” which makes it seem as there has been death there many times before. In this chamber only the “colors in the windows failed to correspond with the decorations”.
It seems as if he is purposely trying to distinguish this room from the others. The black room is so dark and deep in that there were few people even “bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all”
There is a “gigantic clock of ebony” which everyone is terrified off. The ebony clock is situated “against the western wall” of the black room.
Towards the end of the story, we find that the last room which is the black room, is directly linked to death as, “one by one,” everyone dies within it. The clock and flames held in tripods also seems to be linked to death as they all stopped after the death of the last person.
The guests and Prince Prospero couldn’t see death coming until the last minute, the same way they couldn’t see couldn’t see all the rooms from the first room. Death came suddenly and unexpectedly which shows that when it comes to death, everyone is equally vulnerable and defenceless.
The Masqued Ball is another way Poe Creates an allegory. The wearing of the masks symbolises them hiding from the Red Death disease.
As everyone is masqued and dressed up, this would create an unsocial and almost a wild image for the Victorians. Victorians believed in strict rules and people from different backgrounds were hugely stereotyped. If the people are hidden, then they can get away by acting however they want to and do whatever they want. Just this thought would shock them.
The guests seemed to be very much enjoy the freedom at the ball and not being themselves as the occasion is described as a “magnificent revel.” The entire evening, the Red Death seems forgotten and the guests are being really entertained.
The only time they do pause their party is when the black ebony clock chimes. This clearly shows their fear towards it. The chime of the clock is said to “echo” through all the rooms which shows their emptiness which could mean that even the prince himself doesn’t go in there because he too is frightened of the last few suites.
The mystery guest scares everyone and is described as he looks like he is actually suffering from the disease when his face is said to look like “scarlet horror” and he is “dabbled with blood”. Everyone was scared to question the mystery guest, including Prospero as he shuddered and hoarsely ordered to seize him.
The mystery guest enters at midnight which is associated with violence and death but it also symbolises the finish of a day and the start of a new day and new life. The mystery character in the ball is revealed to be the Red Death. It moves “with a slow and solemn movement” which isn’t surprising because the Red Death will kill everyone anyway so it doesn’t need to rush.
Diseases like the Red were around in the Victorian times so the number of deaths from the disease wouldn’t surprise them. Tuberculosis was around then and it infected over 75% of the US population which is enormous amount of people.
The ending clearly showed that no matter how powerful you are, like Prospero, you are weak when you face death as Prospero died. Therefore Poe’s message could be that everyone should have equal rights and wealth. It also showed that death is something that comes but you cannot fight it or stop it. Just like the black room you cannot see it coming. The guests tried catching the Red Death but the Red Death wasn’t “tangible” so they simply couldn’t touch it.
The power of death is shown in the last paragraph at the end. At the end of the story, we are told that death comes “like a thief in the night,” and even those who seek “peace and safety…shall not escape.”