In Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Masque of the Red Death”, the author uses different symbolism to illustrate the image of death. In both of these stories, death is the final result of a punishment, the end of a human’s life. However, in the first story, Poe shows us that there exists something in human ‘s life that is more terrible than death. And in the second story, Poe tells us that death is inevitable and it is useless if you try to escape it. From the beginning of “The Pit and the Pendulum”, Poe starts to show us the desperation and the terror the narrator feels in the prison.Order now
He is alone and lost, he can’t see anything and hear any voice. It makes him feel hopeless and scared. The complete dark pit where the Inquisition shuts the narrator up creates an atmosphere of death and fear. The fact that the pit is an abyss makes the readers think of death.
In addition, the ceiling of the prison where a huge pendulum with a scythe hangs shows that the narrator’s life is in danger. The image of death becomes clearer when the narrator finds out that the pendulum is in motion. “But what mainly disturbed me was the idea that it had perceptibly descended. I now observed- with what horror it is needless to say- that its neither extremity was formed of a crescent…”(68). Death becomes impossible to prevent in this case. Especially when the pendulum keeps going down.
As Poe describes, “Down- still unceasingly- still inevitably down! I gasped and struggled at each vibration…”(70) However, when we all wait to see the end, the narrator is saved by the rats. This unexpected change gives us a message that life is full of unexpected and we can never lose hope. But a more unimaginable thing happens right after the escape from the pendulum. The prison (the pit) becomes hot like a heated iron. Moreover, “ a richer tint of crimson diffused itself over the pictured horrors of blood” (72) Here, we can make a connection between blood and death easily.
Once again, the narrator ‘s life is in menace. Fortunately, the narrator is saved at the last minute, but the terror and the fear he feels during that period seems more terrific than death. In fact, Poe shows us compare to the affliction the narrator suffers in the pit, death becomes a relief. In some situation, death is not the most terrible thing a human can have, in the opposite; death can help us leave from the pain.
In the second story, “The Masque of the Red Death”, Poe depicts a completely opposite situation. Death, in this case, becomes an end. First of all, the prince’s name, Prospero, means happiness and prosperity and this are what the prince has in his life. He chooses to escape when there has a plague. Instead of helping his people, he leaves with his prosperity and continues his luxurious life. It shows clearly his selfishness and in the reality, it is the reason why he has to be punished and has to die.
The fires in each of the suite rooms represent in fact death. “… a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire that projected its ray through tinted glass…. But in the western of black chamber, the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood tinted panes …. bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.
”(58) This description produces a mysterious atmosphere in the west in contrast to those chambers at east. This can relate to the pattern of the sun’s movement. The sunrise in the east represents new life of a day. At the other hand, the sunset in the west means the end of a day and darkness. Poe, in his story, always uses darkness to visualize death, as in “the Pit and the Pendulum”.
Moreover, the dcor of the black chamber is in fact a symbol of death. As Poe describes, “The panes here were scarlet- a deep blood color. ”(58) The relationship between blood and death is an essential aspect because Poe wants the reader to have a visual image of the blood flowing down the walls as a form of death. This is an obvious reference to the “Red Death”.
When the masked “Red Death” makes his appearance, he moves rapidly from the eastern room (the beginning of life) to the western room (the end of life). In addition, Poe describes that the prince rushes “hurriedly through the six chambers”(61), but when he approaches to the black room, he stops and falls dead upon the black carpet. This signifies that death cannot be avoided even Prospero tries to prevent from it. Significantly, the appearance of the “Red Death” at midnight is also symbolic. This is the end of a day and no doubt, represents the end of life. Poe demonstrates that death is something we can never predict.
Also, death is the biggest punishment a human can have, because life is the most precious thing a human being’s own. When one loses one’s life, it means this person loses already all has. Humans always try to prevent death. It is true that no one wants to die. But Poe shows us, by his two stories, that death is not prevented. However, if we think in a different point of view, death is not always a bad thing.
Between forever pain and death, I think most of the people will choose death. If we can understand this principle, death will become less horrible.