Short StoriesThe Masque of the Red Death

Critical Analysis of “The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe

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Edgar Allan Poe was a well-known American short story author and poet who’s notable for his contributions to the American Romantic movement. The plot of ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ is simple. The Red Death is a fictional plague sweeping by the land. Prince Prospero, the principal character within the short story, is hiding from the curse in an abbey and a bunch of different nobles. Despite the plague being fairly horrific and consisting of signs like sweating blood and dying within 30 minutes, the nobles assume they’re protected within the abbey. They are so relaxed about their scenario that Prospero hosts a big masquerade ball.

Seven rooms are color-coded and organized east to west. The last of those rooms is a creepy room that’s embellished in black and scarlet. This room comprises an enormous clock that scares the visitors each time it chimes on the hour.

People keep partying till it strikes midnight. Then, a mysterious figure reveals up, disturbing because the doors to the abbey are welded shut to keep all of the plague-infested people out. The figure is wearing a bloody gown, and the figure’s mask is designed to appear like somebody who has died from the Red Death. Prospero chases the figure by the abbey till he corners the figure within the creepy room, which is the room farthest to the west. When the stranger looks at Prospero, Prospero drops dead. The different noblemen corner the stranger and unmask him. Once he’s unmasked, they understand that he doesn’t possess a physique. Everyone within the abbey catches the Red Death and dies.

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The Masque of the Red Death: Critical Analysis

The imagery of “The Masque of the Red Death” which was initially revealed as “The Mask of the Red Death” in Graham’s Magazine, most likely because the periodical’s editor thought the word “masque” was too exotic, has been echoed many instances since, in all of the literary and cinematic works.

Within the story itself, the costumes adopted within the masked ball are likened to those featured in Victor Hugo’s verse drama Hernani. However, the imagery of this description was successfully effaced by Poe’s narrative, the ostentation of which turned a great of exotic decadence to which all actual masked balls aspired in useless.

Gothic Imagery in the Story

As it was known in England, the Gothic novel had long been established as prose fiction’s principal contribution to the Romantic revolt towards Classicist beliefs of artistic form and decorum. The story additionally marked the start of a new tendency in nineteenth-century literature.

Poe’s French translator, Charles Baudelaire, thought that he had discovered a twin soul, one who had given voice in prose to the dark sentiments Baudelaire routinely expressed in his poetry. “The Masque of the Red Death” was one of many works the French poet held up as a central exemplar of a decadent sensibility and a decadent style.

Stylistically, the style of “The Masque of the Red Death” is intentionally artificial, its narrative viewpoint is calculatedly distant, and it solely comprises one item of speech. In all these respects, it runs counter to the dominant pattern within the growth of nineteenth-century prose fiction, which was to import the elements of novelistic narrative realism into the short story, changing its key exemplars into delicate “slices of life.” Perhaps, subsequently, Poe’s piece shouldn’t be considered a “story” in any respect, however rather as a “tale” akin to and derived from the custom of oral narration rather than affiliated with the evolution of written texts.

It can also be curiously triumphant in its echoing of the grim consolation of the medieval danse macabre. This image is commonly discovered on church walls and meant to remind wealthy and poor alike that Death—characteristically personified as a hooded skeletal figure—will, ultimately, lead everybody away in an endless procession. Actual quasi-orgiastic masques had long been related to the carnival of Mardi Gras, the day before the start of the forty-day Lenten fast, whose climax was the Easter celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Thus, masques had at all times had the climactic and valetudinarian side that Poe exaggerates to its limit in his short story.

“The Masque of the Red Death” was solely one in all a host of ground-breaking works that Poe produced, the sum of which established him as probably the most revolutionary writer of all time. No other American author has proved as influential, and there’s a tragic irony in the truth that Poe was so wholly unappreciated in his time that he nearly starved to death, abandoning a highly deceptive reputation as a drink-addled maniac.

Like lots of Poe’s works, “The Masque of the Red Death” has been subjected to numerous processes of theoretical psychoanalysis. The Freudian critic Marie Bonaparte argues that the Red Death is symbolic of a father returning to punish a son for his Oedipal desires. At the same time, Richard Wilbur means that the Red Death symbolizes the disease of rationalism. Prospero’s try to seclude himself from it represents the flight of the poetic creativeness from worldly consciousness into dreams. Numerous critics insist that no such secondary elaboration is essential. The story is precisely what it appears to be on the surface: primarily simple recognition of the inevitability of death.

The symbolism of its garishly colored rooms, incarnate dreams, and ebony-cased timepiece had already been echoed and imitated so usually by the point Poe wrote the story as to appear trite. Such apparatus was already customary in Gothic fiction produced at the end of the eighteenth century. Poe, nonetheless, distilled and purified this symbolism with an uncommon economy and an unprecedented depth of focus, forging a veritable masterpiece.

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