“Masque of the Red Death” Edgar Allan Poe Imagery • Language that appeals to one or more of the five senses. Imagery in "The Masque of the Red Death." • Example of Imagery - "There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the sympathy of his fellow men." Imagery in "The Masque of the Red Death." • Senses - Sight, Touch • Analysis - Poe establishes the mood and setting of the story with the vivid description of the Red Death. The passage establishes the horror of the disease and explains why the guests would react to the blood stained intruder at the end of the story. Example of Imagery • - "The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon the carpet of the same material and hue" • Senses - Sight, Touch • Analysis: The oppressiveness of the 7th room contrasts the gaiety of the previous six. The darkness of the room and the heaviness and darkness of the curtain symbolizes death. No wonder none of the guests wish to come near it. Note the pun on "shroud." • Example of Imagery - "The panes here were scarlet--a deep color....In the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire, that projected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illuminated the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances...The effect of the firelight that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood tinted panes was ghastly in the extreme" • Senses - Sight • Analysis - So much for peaceful death. The images created by the brazier of fire and blood tinted glass give the room of death a ghastly appearance. The gaudy and fantastic appearances, the blood tinted panes, and the fire create an image of hell, hinting that perhaps the guests and the Prince fear not just the Red Death, but their eternal fate. Example of Imagery • - "Its pendulum swung to and fro with a heavy monotonous clang; there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical" • Senses - Sound • Analysis - No wonder the musicians stopped when this clock struck. Poe uses personification--brazen lungs--to emphasize the deepness of the "heavy monotonous clang," a clang that serves as an hourly reminder to the guests that death is approaching. Example of Imagery • - "The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habilments of the grave...His vesture was dabed in blood and his broad brow, with all the features of the face was besprinkled with the scarlet horror." • Senses - Sight • Death - The personified Red Death strikes fear and anger in the hearts of Prospero and his guests. Once the Red Death appears, it never leaves. Allegory • An allegory is a story in which the objects, characters, and events are symbolic of something grander in scale. • Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" should be studied at many levels: (1) the literal level - the literal level is a study of the events that actually take place in the story; (2) an allegorical level -. • The seven rooms, therefore, represent the life of all humans. • (1) the first room lies furthest East, or where the sun rises; • (2) the last room lies furthest West, or where the sun sets; • (3) the rooms are arranged in such a manner "that vision embraced but little more than one at a time" in the same way life only provides short glimpse into the future. Setting • Setting: The action takes place in the newly constructed "castellated abbey" of Prince Prospero. The castle has been boarded up, leaving "means of neither ingress nor egress" in an effort to keep out the Red Death, a plague that has killed half of the population in Prince Prospero's kingdom. • The majority of the story's action takes place in the Imperial suite, which contains seven rooms, each exclusively decorated and lighted with a specific color, the exception being the last room whose black interior is complemented by red windows.. • Although the narrator never gives a specific time, the events occur most likely during the middle ages as indicated by the existence of castles, a sharp division between nobles and peasants, and the existence of a deadly plague • Analysis: The boarded up castle is the Prince's attempt to keep out the Red Death. The seven rooms symbolize the seven ages of man, an allusion to a monologue in Shakespeare's As You Like It. • Several plagues decimated the population of Europe during the Middle Ages, the most well known, the Black Death, occurring in the latter half of the 14th-century, killed approximately 40% of Europe's population . Characters • Only two "Masque of the Red Death" characters are named: Prospero and the Red Death • Prince Prospero:The prosperous Prince invites citizens "from among the knights and dames of his court" to reside with him in his odd fortressed castle. His intent is to prevent the Red Death from affecting him or his guests. He falsely believes that he and his guests can prevent death. The Prince's name is symbolic. He is wealthy. He is noble. He is respected. He still dies. • The Red Death: Prince Prospero throws a costume party at which a figure "tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habilements of the grave" strolls through the castle. "His vesture was dabbed in blood and his broad brow, with all the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror." The Red Death has arrived. Many interpret the story as an allegory of life, the end result being death to all. • Prospero's Guests: None of Prospero's guests are named. We do know, however, that they are of noble blood and that peasants and commoners are locked out, leading many to surmise that "The Masque of the Red Death" is an allegory for the death of feudalism, an economic system in which peasants worked the land and nobles made the money. Symbols • Symbols are people, places, events, or things that stand for ideas larger than themselves. The Seven Rooms • Blue- East, windows the same color • Purple- windows the same color • Green- windows the same color • Orange- windows the same color • White- windows the same color • Violet- windows the same color • Black- West, blood-red windows Color and its symbolism • Red - The most obvious color symbolism in "The Masque of the Red Death" is in its title. Red symbolizes death and blood. The gruesome description of the Red Death gives the color a ghastly connotation, especially in light of the red window panes contained in the death room at the far western end of the imperial suite. • Black/Ebony - The seventh room was "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". • This seventh room contains "no light of any kind" and represents the darkness of death. In this room stands the ebony clock. Upon hearing its chimes the guests were reminded of death: "the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation" • Blue/Purple/Green/Orange/White/Violet - These are the colors of the first six rooms in the imperial suite. They represent a prism and therefore reflect a progression, lending credence to the interpretation that the story is an allegory for life. This interpretation, however, is complicated by the fact that the color of Prospero's room does not occur in the same sequence as they do in a prism, possibly reflective of Prospero's twisted sense of fairness or an attempt by the author to associate particular colors with a specific period in life Symbolisms: Black and Red • The black and blood red room seems to represent death Seven Rooms • Others interpret the 7 rooms in "The Masque of the Red Death" as a symbol of Prospero's indulgence in the seven deadly sins 1. Pride/Vanity • 1. Pride/Vanity - Pride is the excessive belief in one's own abilities, similar to vanity, which is setting one's heart on things of little value. Prospero's belief that he is more powerful than death is a vivid demonstration of pride 2. Envy • 2. Envy – It is the desire for others’ traits, status, abilities, goods or situation. It is unclear who the Prince might envy, but he sure is trying hard to impress someone. 3. Gluttony • 3. Gluttony - Gluttony is the act of consuming more than one is required. Instead of using his means to protect more people, something he is obligated to do as prince, he lavishes his guests with "ample provisions" and "the appliances of pleasure." 4. Lust • 4. Lust - Lust is an excessive craving for the pleasures of the body, usually associated with sex. The era in which Poe wrote prohibited the explicit or implicit description of sex, but what do you think was going on at an anything goes party? 5. Anger • 5. Anger – The person rejects love and opts for fury. The Prince becomes angry with the uninvited guest and attacks it. 6. Greed • 6. Greed - Greed is the desire for material wealth. Although it is apparent Prince Prospero shares his wealth with a thousand guests, he helps those who need it least and withholds his substance from those in need. 7. Sloth • 7. Sloth - Sloth is the absence of work. The prince seems like a hard worker; his work, however, is on the physical realm not the spiritual realm. The Seven Rooms • Supposedly, the suite is an allegory of human life. Each room, in other words, 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 • A day can represent a person’s life… – Sunrise is birth – Sunset(or night) is death Blue Room • The blue room, which is furthest to the east, represents birth. The color suggests the "unknown" from which a human being comes into the world. • The first room would represent infancy, and fittingly Poe locates it in the easternmost part of the imperial suite. (The east is a primordial archetype associated with the rising sun and birth.) Purple Room • The next room is purple, a combination of blue (birth) and red (associated with life, intensity) suggests the beginnings of growth Green and Orange Room • Green, the next color, suggests the "spring" of life (youth), orange the summer and autumn of life. White Room • White, the next color, suggests age – think white hair, and bones. Violet Room • Violet (a combination of purple and blue, or purple and grey) is a shadowy color, and represents darkness and death Black Room • And black, obviously, is death • The last room, the seventh, would represent old age and death, and Poe locates it in the westernmost part of the imperial suite. (The west is a primordial archetype associated with the setting sun, old age, and death.) • There's no red room. • Red would be a better color than orange for summer/autumn, or as a better color than purple for growth. • But probably Poe 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 "red." • The fact that the revelers don't go into the black room indicates their fear of death. • 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. Number Seven • Poe's story takes place in seven connected but carefully separated rooms. This reminds the reader of the past significance of the number seven. (The history of the world was thought to consist of seven ages, just as an individual's life had seven stages. The ancient world had seven wonders; universities divided learning into seven subjects; there were seven deadly sins with seven corresponding cardinal virtues, and the number seven is important in mysticism.) Number Seven • This suggests that the seven rooms represent the seven stages of one's life, from birth to death, through which the prince pursues a figure masked as a victim of the Red Death, only to die himself in the final chamber of eternal night Other Symbols & Meanings 1. The Ebony Clock 2. The Masquerade Ball 1. wearing masks, anonymous… could represent everyone 3. Plague(The Red Death) 4. The Uninvited Guest Blood • Blood, the very substance of life, becomes the mark of death as it bursts through the pores. East to West • The seven rooms are laid out from east to west, reminding us of the course of the sun which measures our earthly time. The Ebony Clock: What does it mean? • Time… running out? – Mortality – time running out eventually ending in death The Clock • The big, black, creep 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 Ebony Clock • The Ebony Clock is a constant reminder of death and symbolizes the inevitability of it. The revelers could neither stop its pendulum from swinging nor could they prevent its ominous tones from dampering their enthusiasm. The Ebony Clock • The clock symbolizes life and mortality, reminding the people of the time that has passed and the time that will come to pass. The "Castellated Abbey" • The abbey is a place of confinement. It's cut off and secluded (hidden away where no one can find it). Beyond that, its doors are welded shut from the inside. Which means everyone's trapped: no one can get in or out. The sense of confinement (a staple of Gothic lit) is crucial to giving the story its "threatening" atmosphere The "Castellated Abbey" • The Castle represents man's efforts to prevent death. Regardless of wealth, social position, or popularity, death arrives as an uninvited guest. The Masqueraders • The Masqueraders symbolize all humans and gives credence to the interpretation that the seven rooms represent the seven ages of man The Red Death • Poe’s fictional red death resembles a real disease that occurred in Medieval and Renaissance: known as the Black Death because of the livid hue of corpses caused by subcutaneous hemorrhaging. Black, of course, is the color of the seventh room in “The Masque of the Red Death.” The Red Death • The Red Death symbolizes the inevitability of death. Although there is no specific disease with the exact symptoms described in the story, critics believe the disease's description has elements of tuberculosis, a disease which killed many of those close to Poe. It also brings forth memories of the Black Death which depopulated much of Europe during the Middle Ages. The Red Death • The Red Death is death. It's a spectacularly gruesome form of death, probably calculated by Poe for maximum freak-out appeal. Think of it: having contortions and bleeding from all of your pores (particularly your face) until you die. Though as an image, there's something strangely stylish about it. After all, it's not as if the victims are drenched in blood. Judging from the Red Death's appearance, it's more delicate than that: the victims are sprinkled all over with it, almost "decorated" by it. It's grotesque (gross) and aesthetic (almost beautiful) at the same time – like the story itself. • But as far as symbolizing something goes, the Red Death is just a slightly revamped image of plain old Death. The story shows how it can't be escaped, and how Prospero's attempt to escape it, is doomed. • Poe probably chose the red death because red's a brighter and more dramatic color than black, and tends to increase black's own "freak out" effect when the two are put together (as in the red and black room). The story is bright and dramatic – with its colored rooms and its wild, whirling, costumed revelers. The effect of the imagery is almost dizzying. The red-black combo is really loud – it screams at you – so it fits well into that crazy aesthetic, which Poe might be using for a couple of different purposes. • It seems Poe based the Red Death on accounts of the Bubonic plague, also known as the "black death." • Just like Poe's Red Death, it devastated the countryside of Medieval Europe beginning in the 14th century, and occasionally caused people to shut themselves up for protection from the contaminated. • But the symptoms of the diseases bear little relation to each other, besides the fact that they're both fatal. • For all we know, the Red Death is entirely fictional, conjured up by Poe, as we said, just for spine-tingling effect. Masked ball • Prince Prospero's masked ball or dance reminds us of the "dance of death" portrayed in old paintings as a skeleton leading a throng of people to the grave, just as the prince leads his guests to the Red Death. Masque • Of course, in Poe’s story, masque not only refers to Prospero’s ball but also to the disguise (mask) of the Red Death. • It refers to an entertainment staged by Death, for it was he who drove Prospero and his friends into the abbey–a grand stage where, he knew, they would seek to put him out of mind with a divertissement. In short, Death had a ball. The Masquerade/Dream Imagery • "The Masque of the Red Death" feels as if it's one weird, scary dream, especially during the masquerade ball itself. • Everything's just a little too wild, a little too intense, a little too frenzied, and a little too "grotesque" to be real. There are the blaring, over-the-top colors of the suite and the off-kilter alignment of the rooms. There are also the masqueraders themselves, dressed up in all kinds of bizarre costumes, forming a truly mad collage of images. Poe explicitly uses dream language when he describes them : • There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these --the dreams --writhed in and about, taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. (7) • All of this seems too fantastic to be real. It's like the product of a twisted imagination, or a very strange dream. Poe's description of the "writhing" dancers (a word he uses several times), or of the "swelling" music (7), or the "giddiness" (5) suggests a frenzied, dizzying scene. It's chaotic, uncontrolled, and all mixed-up. It's like the whole world is whirling around, as tends to happen in a bad dream. In this world, everything – the rooms' colors, the clock, the ball itself – seems to mean something. This descriptive language is hypermeaningful (overly meaningful), or "oppressively meaningful" . Real life isn't: it's filled with lots of things that, thankfully, don't mean anything. That kind of hypermeaningfulness is much more like something you'd find in a dream…or in the mind of a madman (who thinks everything has to have some meaning, often a threatening one). Masquerade • At masquerades Poe’s characters abandon social conventions and leave themselves vulnerable to crime • The masquerade carries the traditional meanings of joy and social liberation. Reality is suspended, and people can temporarily assume another identity. • The masquerade is enchanting because guests wear a variety of exotic and grotesque costumes Masquerades • In “The Masque of the Red Death,” the ultimate victory of the plague over the selfish retreat of Prince Prospero and his guests occurs during the palace’s lavish masquerade ball. The mysterious guest’s gruesome costume, which shows the bloody effects of the Red Death, mocks the larger horror of Prospero’s party in the midst of his suffering peasants. The pretense of costume allows the guest to enter the ball, and bring the guests their death in person Prince Prospero • The prince's name suggests happiness and good fortune, and the prince, just like all beings uses happiness to wall out the threat of death. Prince Prospero • Prince Prospero symbolizes the end of feudalism. Prospero's inviting only wealthy knights and ladies to his castle at the expense of peasants and commoners represents the socioeconomic divide between landowners and peasants that existed during the feudalistic period. It is not coincidental that the Black Death, which reduced the number of workers, led to a demand for labor and played an important role in ending feudalism in Europe. Apocalyptic Symbolism • The line "like a thief in the night" sounds familiar because it's a really famous line from the Bible. It's from Paul's First Letter to the Thessalonians 5:4, in which Paul is referring to the last judgment. According to him, Jesus will come when the world is least expecting it ("like a thief in the night"), to judge sinners for all of eternity. If you're caught unprepared, you're in trouble. So it's better to always be expecting the judgment, and focused not on the "pleasures of this world" (which have a tendency to be sinful) but on the promise of the next. Otherwise, you're a fool • Poe takes Paul's phrase about Jesus and applies it to the Red Death. In doing so, it might look as if he makes the Red Death into an "apocalyptic" figure – a figure who symbolizes the end of the world. Like the "sinners," Prince Prospero and his friends foolishly ignore the inevitable end of "life's pleasures" that lies at the end of the road, and like them, they pay the price for it. The "pleasures of this world" don't fare too well in "The Masque of the Red Death." But what's different is that, instead of judging sinners like Jesus is supposed to, the Red Death just kills everybody. The inevitable end Poe envisions in his story isn't one of judgment and eternal salvation or suffering. It's summed up in that last line: "And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all“. The Uninvited Guest • A representation of death (specifically The Red Death) that comes to kill Prince Prospero and the rest of the nobles. • Intruder dressed like the corpse of a victim of the red death. Theme • No one, no matter how rich or powerful, can escape the slow march of time…and ultimately death. No man or woman can escape death. • Members of a community–especially the leaders–have a duty to help those in need Irony • Prince Prospero had locked himself and others inside his castellated abbey, and the Red Death brought itself upon the place, and the entire group and the Prospero himself, had locked themselves inside of the abbey, sealing their deaths. • . What the prince had thought to believe would give them hope in life from sealing this plague outside of the place, had instead kept him to his death, unable to run any further from it Masque of the Red Death" Irony #1 " (situational irony • ) - The Prince builds a castle to thwart the Red Death. He surrounds the castle with a "lofty wall" and with "gates of iron." The guests "brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave no means of ingress nor egress to the sudden despair or of frenzy within.". The fortressed castle fails to keep Death out and ironically keeps the guests imprisoned after the Red Death's arrival. "Masque of the Red Death" Irony #2 (situational irony) • - The Prince's purpose is to let his guests forget about death, yet the construction of his Imperial suite, with its "sharp turns" and "novel effects" do little to comfort them. In addition, "the seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the wall...The panes here were scarlet--a deep color." That seems a strange way to help guests forget about death, but not as strange as the ebony clock that rings ominously each hour, causing all to cease their merry revels. Point of View • At the beginning of the story, Poe unravels his yarn in third-person point of view. Instead, Poe becomes an observer who is like a movie camera that can go anywhere and see anything while recording scenes for a film. A third-person narrator does not use pronouns such as I, me, my, mine, we, us, and our except in dialogue that quotes a character. Point of View • . To use such words to refer to himself would be to place himself within the story. However, Poe does exactly that– inexplicably injecting himself into the story as an unidentified persona by switching from third-person to first-person point of view and using the pronouns I and me.