Use of Colors in "The Masque of the Red Death" : LUSENET : The Work of Edgar Allan Poe : One Thread

Could someone explain or give resources that I could use to find out why Poe chose the certain colors in "The Masque of the Red Death" and what the different colors symbolize. Thanks for your answers. They are appreciated greatly.

-- Anonymous, March 17, 2002


Poe's story takes place in seven connected but carefully separated rooms. This reminds the reader of the past significance of the number seven. (The history of the world was thought to consist of seven ages, just as an individual's life had seven stages. The ancient world had seven wonders; universities divided learning into seven subjects; there were seven deadly sins with seven corresponding cardinal virtues, and the number seven is important in mysticism.) Therefore, an allegorical reading of this story suggests that the seven rooms represent the seven stages of one's life, from birth to death, through which the prince pursues a figure masked as a victim of the Red Death, only to die himself in the final chamber of eternal night. The prince's name suggests happiness and good fortune, and the prince, just like all beings uses happiness to wall out the threat of death. Prince Prospero's masked ball or dance reminds us of the "dance of death" portrayed in old paintings as a skeleton leading a throng of people to the grave, just as the prince leads his guests to the Red Death. The significance of time in this story is seen in the symbol of the "gigantic clock of ebony" which is draped in black velvet and located in the final room. Although the clock is an object, it quickly takes on human aspects as the author describes it as having a face and lungs from which comes a sound that is "exceedingly musical" but "so peculiar" that the "dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand," in a momentary rigor mortis that anticipates the final one. The relationship between the Red Death and time is a key to understanding the symbolic meaning of the story. The seven rooms are laid out from east to west, reminding us of the course of the sun which measures our earthly time. These rooms are lighted from without, and it is only in the seventh room where the color of the windows does not correspond with the color of the room, but instead is "a deep blood color" through which light illuminates the westernmost chamber of black, with an ebony clock on its western wall. In creating this room, Poe links the colors red and black with death and time. "[S]carlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim" indicate the presence of the Red Death. Blood, the very substance of life, becomes the mark of death as it bursts through the pores. Death, then, is not an outside antagonist, to be feared and walled out as Prince Prospero attempts to do; but instead it is a part of each of us. Its presence is felt in our imaginations as we become aware of the control that time has over our lives. We hear the echoes of the "ebony clocks" that we carry within. Prince Prospero tries to escape death by walling it out, and by so doing, creates a prison out of his sanctuary. However, the Prince learns that no one can escape death. Death holds "illimitable dominion over all."

-- Anonymous, March 31, 2002

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