“The Masque of the Red Death” embodies Poe’s mastery of the short story; in addition, it illustrates his literary philosophy. This tale is a prime example of Poe’s Gothic horror fiction. The story is narrated in a manner which gives it the quality of a myth, allegory or fairy tale, exploring themes of man’s fear of death, sin, madness, and the end of the world (Dudley).
During his life, Mr. Poe focused on writing stories and poems concerning some aspects of love loss, the grandeur of dying or dead women, fatal pride and the potential horror but necessity of Death (Dudley). His characters with specific qualities lead the reader to assume specific dynamics. Mr. Poe creates a shift of readers’ perspective by using essential and excessive metaphors in his works. Mr. Poe uses abstract ideas and concepts to point out what we should already know. Ruben states that Poe’s writing presents realistic details in gothic settings. He changes normal ideals like beauty into something unusual like beauty after death (Smith). He convolutes the setting and characters as need to produce the effect he wants. Mr. Poe’s own words describe the compositions needed. In his “Philosophy of Composition” Poe says that “whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone – afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.” Clark Smith states that “in much of Poe’s best work, the atmospheric elements are so subtly blended, unified and pervasive as to make analysis rather difficult”.
Mr. Poe used word images to capture the readers’ attention. Mr. Poe developed and used structured design and composition in his writing; these words of contrast and specific phrases increased the atmosphere of his stories (Dameron). Numerous authors have analyzed Poe’s works in detail and some with their observations are included in this paper.
Clark Smith states that it was a technique used often. He says “In much of Poe’s best work, the atmospheric elements are so subtly blended, unified and pervasive as to make analysis rather difficult.” Mr. Poe says his writing is “a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction”(Poe). Creating a visual setting for explicit writing can be reached by using patterns that recur to create certain kinds of imagery (Hoffman). Gerard Hoffman says “The principle of contrast can also be observed in the arrangement and decoration of the interior rooms.” Eric du Plessis states that Poe uses the colors in a non – harmonizing arrangement to reinforce an atmosphere of emotional discord in “The Red Mask of Death”. The dream images were commented on by Martha Womack who states that “These dancers are so much a product of the Prince’s imagination that Poe refers to them as “a multitude of dreams”(Poe). Roppolo talks of the atmosphere of Poe’s works and makes note of the irregular array of rooms with the last room set towards the West or the setting sun.
Wilson says Mr. Poe had a life filled with illnesses that interfered with his success as an editor and a reputation for intemperateness that he scarcely deserved. Tis states that Poe may have drawn parallels between the events of his youth and tales from Greek and Roman mythology and added his own interpretation to his stories or poetry. Another influence on Mr. Poe’s writing was the deaths of three women he knew who died of tuberculosis; this common disease of the period must have affecting his story creations (Reuben). Mondragon states that Poe watching his wife Virginia slowly dying almost certainly stimulated Poe’s self-destructiveness. (Wilson). Many life incidents may have inclined Mr. Poe to create stories with certain themes. Specific evidence includes a letter from Edgar Poe to George Eveleth in 1848 in which he mentions the episode of Virginia, his beloved wife bursting a blood vessel and coughing blood during a visit with friends (Tis). It has been said that Mr. Poe wrote “The Red Mask of Death” shortly after (Roppolo).
It is a fact to any observer of the natural world that life and death are cyclical. You cannot separate life from death; these two are linked together as a sunrise and sunset. The power of the dead over the living is a point Mr. Poe emphasized in many of his works. Death is blocked out of the mind of the common man as he goes on living. Mr. Poe shows in this story that choosing to ignore the reality of death has consequences.
Edgar Allen Poe specialized in writing in a Gothic genre that created the reality of death for the common man. Time and death seem to be the primary focus of this masterpiece by Mr. Poe. “The Mask of the Red Death” tells a simple story of the belief that one can choose to be the exception to reality.
Gerhard Hoffmann says that “the symbols in The Masque of the Red Death show the mental process of reflection are of chief importance. The “dance of death” in old medieval paintings shows a skeleton leading a throng of people to the grave as the masked death form leads Prince Prospero to the final room. Time is the controller for the beginning, middle and end of all life. Bizarre interior settings, eccentric movements and the sound of the striking of the gigantic ebony clock are elements which control movement in this story (Hoffmann). In this story, the musicians and dancers pause showing the control by the gigantic ebony clock. Mr. Poe sets the structure of the clock as an important symbol with the embodiment of a life, a face and a set of brazen lungs.
Mr. Poe makes sure we are under no illusion as to what will happen next, the revelers die and “the life of the ebony clock went out…. and the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all”(Poe). Mr. Poe makes the reader accept the finality of death. Mr. Poe defines his Gothic novel writing by linking the space and dweller in a mutual relationship of each defining the other. All this is especially true of Poe, who proceeds from the delineation of space in the or story to develop narrative spaces in which physical elements combine with psychic ones in the sense of a genuine between space and dweller, or space and observer (Hoffman).
Dameron, Lasley. “Poe, Plagiarism, and American Periodicals.” Poe Studies Dark Romanticism. December 1997. 5 July 2007.
Du Plessis, Eric. “Deliberate Chaos: Poe’s Use of Colors in ‘The Masque of the Red Death.'” Dec 2001. 6 July 2007 Poe Studies/Dark Romanticism .
Dudley, David R. “Dead or alive: The booby-trapped narrator of Poe’s Masque of the Red Death.” Studies in Short Fiction 1993. 8 July 2007http://www.cswnet.com/~erin/eap9.htm>
Hoffmann, Gerhard. “Space and Symbol in the Tales of Edgar Allan Poe.” 9 July 2007 .
Mondragon, Brenda. “Edgar Allan Poe”. Neurotic poets. 2006 7 July 2007
Poe, Edgar. “The Masque of the Red Death.” EServer.org 1842. 6 July 2007.
Tis. “How did Poe’s works relate to his time period?” Online Posting. Hv.greenspun.com 10 May 2000. 6 July 2007
Reuben, Paul P. “Chapter 3: Early Nineteenth Century – Edgar Allan Poe.” PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. 2007 .
Roppolo, Joseph. “Meaning and The Masque of the Red Death.” The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore 9 July 2007
Smith, Clark. “Atmosphere in Weird Fiction.” Nonfiction in the Bibliography. Mirage Press 1973. 9 July 2007