The Symbolism And Themes In The Masque Of The Red Death

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

In “The Masque of the Red Death”, Edgar Allan Poe artfully utilizes symbolism and themes of morality and inevitability to highlight the inescapable nature of death. Poe utilizes symbolism in this story through the decor of the abbey and the ebony clock. The rooms of the abbey are set up to represent the stages of life. Poe arranges seven rooms from east to west, this is significant because it symbolizes the progression of a day when the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The passage of time from sunrise to sunset represents the human life cycle from birth to death. The seventh and final room, the black room, represents death. The black room is described as “closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue” (Poe, Page 4). It is seen as containing “no light of any kind” (Poe, Page 5), which symbolizes the darkness of death. Throughout the story, the guests are too frightened to enter the final room because they fear and are attempting to avoid death. Prince Prospero chases after the masked figure all the way from the blue room, the room that represents birth, to the black room, where he faces his timely death. All the other guests charge into the black room ready to unmask the Red Death, but as soon as they enter, they all fall to their death. The color black present in the seventh room is a symbol of death and deterioration, as that final room becomes the tomb of the characters who perish inside it, thereby representing the final stage of life. 

In the black room, there can also be found a giant ebony clock that chimes every hour. The clock is another symbol associated with death in this story, it symbolizes the constant passage of time even though the guests are trying to cheat death. Time does not cease for the guests, the world still moves around them and they are aware that their time is running out. This realization is clearly represented through the reactions of the guests to the chiming clock. Every time the ebony clock strikes on the hour, all the guests suddenly pause their festivities and freeze in dread. “While the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused revery or meditation.” (Poe, Page 5). The clock is an incessant reminder to the guests that they will not escape death, but rather that their lives will be one hour shorter. Time is tied to death, the characters in the story comprehend that each tick of the clock drives them closer to their demise, they are forced to contemplate their vulnerable mortality. Indeed, once the final person in the abbey has died, the clock stops ticking. Thus time is used as a representation for unstoppable forces. The symbolism of both the ebony clock and the decor of the abbey presents the idea of the natural human journey to death that is unavoidable.

Poe illustrates the selfishness and lack of morality that the entitled members of a society possess. Prince Prospero and his guests represent a wealthy class of citizens who are seeking to avoid the epidemic that plagues their land using their money and privilege. The Prince and his friends happily locked themselves in comfortable oblivion within the gated abbey, completely unsympathetic for those they abandoned. The guests are evidently more concerned about their own comfort and capital during this disaster than the wellbeing of anyone who is afflicted by the Red Death. The prince and his guests have no qualms about leaving their people behind to fend for themselves. While those who remain outside the abbey suffer in agony, the aristocrats inside the abbey enjoy endless balls and parties. When years have passed since the beginning of the epidemic, and they have all lost themselves to the blissful and elegant world they created within the confines of their gated community, “while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad,” the Prince continues to, “entertain his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.” (Poe, Page 4). The people around them are dying and their primary focus is vainly amusing themselves with masquerades, instead of providing fortification and comfort against the affliction for those who cannot afford it.


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