The Masque of the Red Death : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

I have a very long paper to hand into my class as a semester long project. In it, I have to explain an understanding of some of his work from each genre. I am mostly though The Masque of the Red Death but I am stuck on a few issues. The narrator…who is he? How did he write this if everyone died? In the end, it tells how after the last of the gay fell the clock stopped and the tripod fire went out. If this was a last testament of a dying man, how could he have known what happened after his own death. Is the narrator death itself? My other question…in a paragraph the guests of the masquerade are referred to as dreams. Is this to be taken as any more than Prospero dressing up his guest in his own vision? After they were referred to as dreams four times I began to wander if there was some symbolism and I simply was not getting it. I think that I understand everything else. I would appreciate any help, thank you in advance. Missy

-- Anonymous, March 15, 2001


Dear Missy,

As you will no doubt be aware of by now, Poe isn't exactly the easiest of authors to understand. You ask about the "Masque of the 'Red Death'", so I shall try to provide some general concepts which may help you out:

Firstly, I shall address the question of the narrator: if one considers that a narrator, and of course a short story, is actually a work of fiction, then it will be admitted that in fiction events do not have to follow a logical or natural pattern. For example, if one considers the story in question, it is quite apparent that some of the events represented therein are hardly likely to be able to take place in what we shall call for the sake of this particular argument "real life" (a clearer example can be found in fairytales: take something like Snow White, for instance... hardly likely is it?).

The narrator of this story is what is academically termed as an "omniscient narrator"... this is one which has privileged knowledge of everything that is happening within the tale, even though it may not necessarily be logical (hence the idea that the narrator can quite casually report this event without being directly implicated in them or affected by them... or we could interpret the narrator as pseaking from beyond the grave... such a premise is not inconceivable, especially in Poe who does this several times (see "The Colloquy of Monos and Una", "The Facts in the case of M Valdemar", etc.). In this set-up the narrator is like a god-like figure.

With regard to the other matter, the references to the dreams, this is quite a tricky one to sort out, because ultimately it is up you personal interpretation just what exactly Poe means by this. You could either understand the story literally, that is to say, the Masque, events therein, etc. or engage in trying to determine deeper levels of signification, such as symbolic allusions, etc.

You could also try consulting the following academic studies on Poe's writings, which may be able to assist you further with this:

- Hammond, J. R., An Edgar Allan Poe Companion (London and Basingstoke: The MacMillan Press Ltd., 1981).

- Ketterer, David, The Rationale of Deception in Poe, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1979).

- Rans, Geoffrey, Egdar Allan Poe (Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd Ltd., 1965).

- Rein, David, Edgar Allan Poe: The Inner Pattern, (London: Peter Owen Ltd., 1962).

- And many others which may be useful to you, and which you can hunt down... (try the bibliographies of the above works, for instance).

I hope all this helps you out in some way, and please feel free to e-mail me further regarding this particular issue (I also have an essay I wrote on this story somewhere which I could perhaps send to you if it will help you out):

Yours sincerely,


-- Anonymous, March 15, 2001

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