“The Masque of the Red Death”
Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” is unique among his works because it is allegorical in nature. Allegory as a genre was something for which Poe expressed distaste (Buranelli 78). The story conveys man’s fear of his own mortality and the lengths to which some will go in attempts to cheat death, even to the exclusion of experiencing life. The story contains numerous symbols representing death and the swift passing of time as it approaches. The overall effect is fantastically ominous and unsettling. In some ways, it makes the reader feel claustrophobic; all the characters are trapped within a horribly confined space with all paths, literal and metaphorical, leading to a very dark end.
Many of the symbols are manifest in the setting. The hero of the story, Prince Prospero, locks himself in one of his abbeys with a thousand of his wealthy friends to protect them from a plague known as the Red Death, which has already killed half of the population of his kingdom. The abbey is described as castellated; built in the style of a castle with battlements and turrets, military features designed for defense. It goes on to describe the iron gates and the additional measures taken to prevent absolutely and attempts at “ingress or egress.” The party is contained and puts absolute faith in these measures. They could be compared to the use of modern medications or those who exercise obsessively and follow a strict diet believing it will preserve their youth and prolong their life. But, as in life, all efforts prove futile as death easily makes his entrance. The impenetrable abbey could also be compared to the psychological defenses people put up. The cognitive forces that compel fifty year old men to buy sports cars and middle aged women to get plastic surgery. Efforts to take them back to a place in time when they imagine they had no cares, every step taking them further from reality. This idea is further...
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