Edgar Allan Poe’s short story entitled The Mask of the Red Death is an artistic example of vivid symbolism. Throughout the sinister tale Poe writes in a style that appeals to all five senses and captivates the reader’s curiosity until the story’s dour conclusion. Upon first glance, the story seems to be a complex tale of good versus evil.
If the reader were to examine the story more deeply, they would then discover that the plot and symbolism intertwined throughout the narrative is no more than a simple metaphor for life and death. A quick synopsis of the story tells the account of the affluent and overly confident Prince Prospero and his faulted attempt to escape death. Poe illustrates that Prospero is blinded by his riches and believes that he can escape death. A heavy dose of figurative language is used to create a struggle in which the mood goes from elation to somberness in just a mere three pages.
The characters of the story are well defined in that the reader can ascertain certain traits, good or bad, of the characters. For instance, Poe writes, “When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court. ” (Poe 41) This line identifies the Prince as a smug, insecure, and even foolish character all while foreshadowing a dark conclusion. These lines identify the Prince as the axis of the story by illustrating a few of his erroneous values and generates the story’s dilemma.
The symbolism in the story adds to the chaos of the Prince’s impending doom. “But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven. that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.
It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. ” (Poe 41-42) In these lines Poe uses more descriptive language to relay to the reader that the Prince is outmatched. The colors give symbolism to the rooms and inform the reader, before the Prince, that death is inescapable. The symbolism of the colors described produces a timeline of events only equivalent to human life. The story follows the course of a human life, most likely the Prince Prospero’s, and end ends with Death.
Poe’s creation of a Red Death is an anomaly in that red is usually considered the color of life, yet here it is represented as the mark of death and thus brings the story full circle. In essence, a huge metaphor is created to show the ignorance of the rich (represented by the Prince) to escape man’s destiny (represented by The Masque of the Red Death). Based on what I know of Edgar Allan Poe’s life, it seems to me that this is the most logical theory as to what the story represents. History paints Poe as a depressed, angry, and spiteful man, and in my opinion this story reflects it. It’s amazing how Poe found a way not only to define his characters but also incorporate what his feelings were into his work.