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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The Unavoidability of Death

The unavoidability of death is the central theme of “The Masque of the Red Death.” Notably, death comes for Prospero (and all his guests) in the symbolic prime of their life, at a party. This suggests that we never know when death is coming for us and that our inane or excessive lifestyles will inevitably be punished or even cause our death.

Death’s inevitability is characterized several ways in the story. Most profoundly, it is personified through the figure of the Red Death itself. It is also illustrated through the design of the masquerade, which is decked with symbols that allude to both time and death. The seven rooms—one for each day of the week—are styled in colors that suggest stages of life, such as blue for birth and black for death. The location of the rooms, which are positioned from east to west, aligns with the sun’s daily journey through the sky, which suggests the passage of time, with sunrise representing birth and sunset signifying death. That the sun makes this journey every day, without fail, further implies inevitability.

The most significant piece of macabre party décor is the clock, which stands in that black seventh room, which is “ghastly in the extreme” (741).