Period C

The Masque of the Red Death

Poe uses heavy symbolism throughout the story to convey his underlying theme: the

inevitability of death and the futility of trying to escape death. The prince's name, Prospero,

generally denotes happiness and prosperity. The Prince possesses these characteristics yet is

faced with a plague that he desperately attempting to avoid. This oxymoron is used to hint

that this man of exuberance will soon be faced with tragedy.

The fires in each of the suite rooms serve as a representation of death. Poe depicts

them to be "a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire that projected its rays through tinted

glass?But in the western or black chamber, the effect of the firelight upon the dark hangings

through the blood tinted panes was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon

the countenances of those who enter it that there are few?bold enough to set foot within it".

The description is meant to produce a mysterious atmosphere in the west in contrast to a

propitious one in the east. This can relate to the pattern of the sun's movement. The sunrise

in the east represents light and new life for the day. However, the sunset in the west means

the end of a day and darkness. Poe uses the element of darkness as a visual representation of


The black clock is also a symbolic element in Poe's story. "Its pendulum swung to and

fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute hand made the circuit?it was

observed that the giddiest turned pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over

their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation". The timepiece represents the rapid

passing of time in life. Every time the clock strikes the hour, the musicians quit playing

and all of the revelers momentarily cease their celebrating. It is as though each hour is

"to be stricken" upon their brief and fleeting lives. To emphasize the brevity of life, the

fleeting of life and time, and the nearness of death, Poe reminds the reader that between the

striking of each hour, there elapses "three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that


The significance of the seventh room is apparent throughout the entire story. Black

usually symbolizes death, and it tends to be used in connection with death. Furthermore, in

describing the black d?cor of the room, the narrator says it is "shrouded" in velvet, shrouded

being a term generally referring to death. In addition, the window panes are "scarlet-a deep

blood color." The relationship between blood and death is an essential aspect because Poe

wants the reader to have a visual image of the blood flowing down the walls as a form of death.

This is an obvious reference to the "Red Death". When the masked "Red death" makes his

appearance, he moves rapidly from the Eastern room (symbolic of the beginning of life) to the

Western room (symbolic of the end of life). In addition, the black chamber furthers Poe's theme.

The prince rushes "hurriedly through the six chambers", but as he approaches the unwanted "guest",

his dagger stops, and he falls dead upon the black carpet. This signifies that death cannot be

destroyed (or avoided) as Prospero tries to prevent his fate from occurring. It is a universal

force against humankind that holds "illimitable domain over all".

Significantly, the appearance of the "Red Death" at midnight is propitious and symbolic.

This is the end of the day, and, by analogy, the end of life. The "unwanted" guest's costume

additionally contains some meaning. The mask portrays the message that death is an event that

cannot be predicted. It is undetectable; a matter disguised as a variety of things in which its

victims are unable to escape from. Death is superior to all defying powers and can overcome

anything, as it overcomes Prospero's "impenetrable" walls to claim his victims.

Poe is highly successful in showing the importance of symbolism to visualize death.

His creative meanings behind several objects in the story further his reinforce theme of

death's inevitability.