44 pages 1 hour read

Edgar Allan Poe

The Masque of the Red Death

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1842

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Symbols & Motifs

The Clock

The ominous clock, situated in the red-and-black room, is a memento mori, a reminder of imminent death through the passage of time. Poe makes this clear in his description of the clock. Not only is the clock gigantic and dark, made of ebony, but its pendulum is heavy and monotonous, symbolizing the labored and meaningful passage of time. When the clock sounds the hour, the resulting chime from its “brazen lungs” is both “exceedingly musical” but also “peculiar” (741). This sound stops everyone in their tracks with an odd and foreboding feeling. The clock is also described as if almost alive itself. With lungs and moving hands, it waits in the darkness of the final room for what it and we all know is coming: The death of everyone who hears its strange song.

The Castellated Abbey

Prospero and his friends shut themselves off from the world in “one of his castellated abbeys” (739). With its gates welded shut, no one can enter or leave. This setting is an externalization of Prospero’s internal desire to avoid death; if he can remove himself from all contact with others, then he can also avoid the plague. The fact that the setting is so grandiose also signals that Prospero believes his wealth will protect him.