What does the mask of the red death symbolize?

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Does anyone have an idea of what the story symbolizes? I know in general what he meant, however, there is a deeper meaning to this. I would love to know what that is.

-- Anonymous, October 01, 2000


Dear Kelly,

I am a third year English student at University and have studied Edgar Allan Poe's work several times (and am still doing so).

It is curious to see that I am not alone in suspecting that Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Masque of the "Red Death"' can be interpreted on more than just the literal level.

You may be interested to know that I have written a psychoanalytic study of this tale, relating ideas both from Sigmund Freud and from Herbert Marcuse, among others, to Poe's tale. I will be more than happy to submit this analysis to you if you wish.

As I write in the essay itself, I make no claims of having the definitive or "right" answer regarding the meaning of the tale. I do not believe that such an answer exists, and if it ever did (if Poe did have a "right" reading in mind when he wrote the tale), then anything which can be deduced from his text is merely speculative.

I am not a psychoanalyst at heart, but rather a pluralist, in the sense that any critical approach or reading is acceptable as long as it is justifiable (the argument proposed must be substantiated by either textual or co-textual material).

Moreover, I consider that 'The Masque of the "Red Death"' is a perfect example of a text which is open to almost endless interpretation (whether one examines the literal, the symbolic, and so forth).

I believe that the "right" reading is probably that which is "right" to you as an individual. In my case I demonstrated how the text may be psychoanalysed, but having admitted to the above plurality of meaning, recognise that what I am actually saying is that there is no "right" reading (ergo, many possible interpretations which are equally valid more or less, as long as they are justifiable, and not pure nonsense).

I hope this helps you. As I said, please feel free to ask for my analysis if you would like to read it, and I shall try to send a copy to you.

-- Anonymous, October 13, 2000

As I interpret it, the mask of the red death is nothing but that of a fundamental gothic peace. *(also note that after the death of many loved ones, Poe experimented with taking large amounts of opium with his bouts of writing- not to mention he could handle very little alcohol; which would explain his genious amongst the ranks of mary shelly and her bouts with hallucinogens) Poe shows the human tendency to fall into the darker side of human instinct and emotion. Poe exposes the audacity of the rich and "superior" to conduct a feast and party within the confines of a home while thousands are dying of the black death. Those who cast a whimsical glance in the direction of the poor and feel no sympathy, have no protections from the onslaught of temptation, or any human affliction. In fact it is much worse, the availability allows these sins to bleed their souls to the marrow of dispair. As shown in "Dr. Heidigger's Experiment", "The Devil and Tom Walker", and other pieces from the period. Not only is the author trying to show the weakness of their mindset, but show the nature of humans, their weakness is not in the plot literally, but it is meant to show the ease with which evil lives in our souls. Thanks and i hope that helped in the least- a highschool student in California.

-- Anonymous, November 28, 2000


-- Anonymous, October 01, 2001

Red which means life as in life blood held in opposition to death and the colour black. Both opposed to each other but absolutely intertwined. Life/Death. The inevitable. The party goers could not bear the sight of the truth in the 7th room, they avoided it. A great use of colour and imagery and a cold slap in the face of the well to dos.

-- Anonymous, October 05, 2001

Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" can have several interpretations. The one that I have always fostered has been the major theme of the story, the inescapability of death. Prince Prospero is a man bent on keeping out the horrible plague which has beset his people. I always found it interesting that he only inlcuded people in the castle who seemed to have been of wealth and power. However, the major theme is that no matter who you are, how much money you have, who your parents are/were, or your status in social circles, no one beats death. Death comes for ALL mankind, not just the poor. Also, if you notice the seven different rooms in the castle mentioned by Poe. This could be representative of the Seven Ages of Man, something that Shakespeare wrote about. Each room is different in color and shape. Of course, the Red Death himself is unmasked in the last room, the dark, ebony colored room. Also, when you apply what we know about Poe and his life we find that the disease called the Red Death is so closely related to Tuberculosis, or Consumption that overcam Poe's mother, foster mother and eventually his wife. Take a look at how Poe describes the sickness and how it relates to Tuberculosis....I found that to be very intersting. All in all, the interpretation of this work is wide open, as long as it is supported by text.

-- Anonymous, October 15, 2001

I know for sure the "red death" symbolizes the great plague in england which leads me to believe that poe used the masque of the red death to symbolize that in the story Prospero and his make believe guests are trying to hide from him and a masquerade is a party that in which people hide their faces so maybe he was trying to get at the point that everyone was trying to hide from the plague but int he end there was no way to do so

-- Anonymous, November 04, 2001

This horrific short story could be interpreted on many levels. Symbolism pervades the work. Prince Prospero's name is even symbolic in some ways. One could interrpret his name as meaning prosper...to live on. But this is precisely what he does not do. Poe shows us here that plagues eventually hit all people...we can not hide from death just as people could not hide from the bubonic plague in the middle ages. Death comes to us all and perhaps if we faced it...faced the dark room...then it wouldn't chase after us so becasue we would not be displaying utmost pride and conceitedness.

-- Anonymous, November 27, 2001

I find that the theme of "The Masque of the Red Death" cannot be looked upon as one strictly defined idea. The theme is more built as a tree rather than a rock. The root of the theme is quite obviously death, but it goes much farther than that. "Branching" off of death is the idea of inevitability, in that death eventually catches up with us all, and that there is indeed no escape from it. This is desplayed by the cryptic figure somehow penetrating the Prince's realm of pleasure and bringing to it the one thing he was trying to avoid, death. However, I believe Poe was trying to go beyond this. I believe there is also a message of judgement involved. It is quite well percieved that it is purely evil for a leader to not only avoid aiding his people, but even revel in their deaths. In my opinion this merits death, not only in this life, but beyond. I beleive the "walking corpse" was sent as an executioner to destroy the wicked. In response, one could argue that all the good people of the nation recieved the same sentence as the prince, but do the good ever really die? Obviously the tale is still open for interpretation, that's just my take on it, and I hope it helps out.

-- Anonymous, November 29, 2001

"The Masque of the Red Death" is open to many interpretations. The one we focused on in Humanities is the significance of the number seven. There are seven rooms in the story. The number seven is ofen associated with time, there are seven stages to the world, there are seven days in a week. There are also seven heavenly virtues and seven deadly sins. Mostly what the rooms mean to me is the seven stages of life, the first being birth, the last being death. The giant clock in the seventh room was overlooked by me at first. Whenever the giant clock of ebony strikes, everyone stops and looks, death has come for someone but not themselves, the acknowledge that death has occured. The prince runs through the rooms trying to avoid Death, but Death finds everyone and the bell tolled for him.

-- Anonymous, January 04, 2002

I feel that the story itself represents you cannot cheat death, as Prince Prospero tries. As a Christian, I feel that this story represents in another way the wages of sin....death. If you notice that in the story the revellers were all partying at all times and drinking and making merry. However, they forget that they too are human, and in doing so bring about their own demise. Death comes for all it would seem, and it plays no favorites.

Aside from this if you notice they all get scared of death when the clock strikes 12 every night, as if they believe with it will come their death. Which, as we all know, in the end it does. You would think they might notice something with their fears?

God Bless, and take care everyone. Hope I made some sense atleast.

In Christ, Randy Engle Gadsden State

-- Anonymous, January 10, 2002

In thinking about this story, I think it may be useful to notice that Prince Prospero himself is a lover of symbolism. Color symbolism, for one thing.

The pleasure we've taken in figuring out that the masked figure "stands for" Death ends up looking rather like the Prince's own efforts to create a domain of grotesque (but ordered and readable) symbolism. Which perhaps suggests that we're not as different from the Prince as we thought. Perhaps saying "no one can deny the reality of Death, which comes to rich and poor alike" is precisely a way of calming the fear of death . . .

It may also be useful to recall that another famous character named "Prospero" was something of a stand-in for the author.

-- Anonymous, July 15, 2002

I think that there is no one interpretation of this story. It is to the reader, as in all writing, to only believe what ever he wants to believe. While everyone may read it and say that it is about the inescapbility of death, or the overpowering cause of greed, it is up to the reader to decide which interpretation he wants t believe.

-- Anonymous, September 27, 2002

Dude this book like, like, totally sucks, man. Where are the parties? Well, there was that one party, but it was, like, totally hideous. And all that blood? Fashion No-no! I think that masked guy like totally needs some TLC. Like, I don't get it. I want somebody to eat out my pussy and then fuck me hard all night long.

-- Anonymous, September 27, 2002

I lovvvveeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee pusssssssssssyyyyyyy!

-- Anonymous, September 27, 2002

I never thought about the Seven Stages of Man as a comparison, but it is a good one. THe seven rooms can also represent the 7 deadly sins. The sins are based on desire. It's harder to turn back after each room they enter. When the enter the last room the Red Death gets them.

-- Anonymous, October 05, 2002

The seven rooms do actually represent the seven stages of life and not the seven deadly sins. But it is an opinion and can be interpreted any way you like. The only thing I have trouble finding is what the actual stages are. My English teacher told us that she could nto remember what they were. I know for sure it is not the infancy and childhood crap, which I've been finding all over the place. It is somethign that she learned in psychology. Please if you know wut the actual seven rooms are or even have an idea of what they are or a site that it is listed on, please, PLEASE, answer back.

-- Anonymous, October 20, 2002

In the short story "Masque of the Red Death" there are different aspects to look at. The number seven is symbolic in which it shows that there is no way to escape death. Time is precious and it should be used wisely. But in Edgar Allen Poe's story he is stating that no matter where you are life is taken at any given moment. Life can be overlooked and can be taken for granted. No matter how far you run Death will catch up with you

-- Anonymous, November 04, 2002

I beleive that the Masque of the Red Death is a symbol of emotions. The 7 different color rooms represent different emotions. Ex: the black room represnts the emotion fear. Nobody wants to be afraid, so they do not enter the room.

-- Anonymous, April 03, 2003

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