No One Can Hide From Death


In "The Masque of Red Death", Edgar Allen Poe tells a story of human denial and struggle with death, especially among the wealthy. Poe uses powerful images of sensual texture, color and symbols to show the passing of time and life.

Prince Prospero along with "a thousand hale and lighthearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court" (202) sought a haven from the "Red Death" that is devastating the country. They lived together in the prince's luxurious abbey with all the amenities and securities imaginable. The Prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. "There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet dancers, there were musicians, there was beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the "Red Death" (202). Prince Prospero had the gate bolts of iron welded closed to prevent anyone else to enter or leave. "The external world could take care of itself" (202). As if being wealthy means he is not responsible for the less fortunate and only those few selected should be cared for.

After the fifth or sixth month together a masquerade is planned, and in typical "Poesque" fashion the great halls are described in imagery that foreshadows a horror to follow. The "masque" takes place in the imperial suite, which consisted of seven very distinct rooms. Seven being a symbol - seven wonders of the world, seven deadly sins with seven corresponding cardinal virtues. Seven also suggesting the stages of one's life, from birth to death (Birth, childhood, teenage, young adult, middle age, old age, death).

The seven rooms are laid out from east to west, reminding us of the course of the sun, which measures our earthly time. Time in this story is seen in the symbol of the "gigantic clock of ebony" (203) which is draped in black velvet and located in the final room. Although the clock is an object, it quickly takes on human aspects as Poe describes it as having a face and lungs from which comes a sound that is "exceedingly musical" but "so peculiar" (203).

The rooms were irregularly set up so that you could see little more than one room at a time. This can also be taken as a suggesting that we as humans only see one small part of our lives at a time. All the rooms were decorated in different colors, the first in blue with vivid blue windows, the second in purple with matching windowpanes, the third in green, the fourth in orange, the fifth in white, the sixth in violet, all with matching windowpanes. Only the seventh room, which was shrouded in black velvet, had windowpanes that did not match. "The panes here were scarlet - a deep blood color" (203). There were no lights in any of the rooms, only a fire behind each windowpane "thus produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances"(203) in each room. Thus enhance the peculiar taste of Prince Prospero, who had already requested that his guest were to dress in bizarre and grotesque costumes.

The night of the ball comes, the guests arrive in their costumes and the festivities begin. The first six rooms "were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life" (204). But at the top of each hour "(which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies)"; the guest sense there is something wrong, Poe describes that the musicians stop playing and "the giddiest grew pale, and more aged" (203) till the echoes from the clock fully cease. Then the party goes on, as if nothing had happed till the next hour. "And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock" (204). It was then a tall gaunt figure dressed in grave cerements and a corpse-like mask, dabbled in blood, enters to the terror and horror of all.

From the blue room, Prince Prospero asks "Who dares insult us with the blasphemous mockery?" (205). Everyone is offended, but too frightened to apprehend the figure as if they knew this was not just another invited guest. When the figure continues to walk away Prince Prospero chases after him through each of the six rooms.