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The significance of symbolisms and the stages of man in the Masque of Red Death And Darkness and Dec

The significance of symbolisms and the stages of man in the “Masque of Red Death”
“And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

-Edgar Allan Poe

Symbolism is a very big aspect of the short story “The Masque of Red Death”, written by Edgar Allan Poe. In this story, we are introduced to a town who has been infected with the plague. Prince Prospero has gathered all the unaffected, upper class, townspeople in an enclosed castle-like building to keep all his friends inside and all the poor infected outside. The prince throws parties that are extravagant and seem to be a distraction from the reality happening outside the walls. During the party, a masked figure appears unexpectedly. With the castle closed so that no one can leave or enter, the people are extremely nervous of this new character who appears as death. When the prince tries to kill the figure, he dies, yet the figure disappears. The rest of the people in the castle die mysteriously from the nasty plague inside the fortified castle. There are many symbols throughout the story and each of them seem to be individually important to the story and what it means. The main symbols include the castle, the masks, the seven chambers, the clock, and the mysterious figure. Patricia H. Wheat creates an argument about how the castle and the recreation of his life in terms of the seven chambers was his own way of having control over his own life. In addition, H. H. Bell explains the importance of the rooms, their placement, and their color to show how they represent Prince Prospero’s lifespan. These symbolisms are each individually and collectively important to the meaning of the story and they each are someway associated to Prince Prospero.

One of many symbolisms important to the story is the building in which the prince and his people enclose themselves. The prince and his friends hide in an abbey like castle and use many safeguards to protect themselves from the red death, “With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself.” (Poe 1). The building has strong, sturdy walls and gates of iron that surround it. Once everyone has entered the castle, they welded the bolts so that no one may enter, and no one may leave. The castle, in this context, is not only a physical barrier but also a mental one. As observed by Patricia H. Wheat, “The external world here has the dual meaning of the worlds outside the abbey and the outside mind” (Wheat 53). The prince, in this situation, has barred his mind from thoughts of the outside world, reality, and the red death. The fact that the prince and his people can even dance and party show how they have, in a way, forgotten what lays outside the walls of the castle. They distract themselves with what is in front of them to ignore the reality of the situation. By disregarding the external world, the people could be possibly hoping it does not exist. This “castle” that surrounds the prince’s and people’s minds is a coping mechanism.

The masks that the people wore inside the castle are important to the story as well. With the red death present outside the walls, they needed a way to distract themselves. By placing a mask in front of their faces, everyone was able to become someone else. Everyone was able to become people who weren’t threatened by death. The masks gave the people a way to play out the fantasy that death was avoidable and that they could live their current lavish lives forever. However, this fantasy is not going to last forever, and it is eventually going to come to a very horrible ending. The masks, in particular to the prince, are just a way to distract his mind and those around him from the red death

Inside this castle are seven chambers which are extremely important to the story. The layout of the seven rooms represent multiple things, “while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded” (Poe 1). The short story explains how the rooms looked during the times of when the story is supposed to take place. It was common to see the rooms in a single line so that a person can see from one end to all the way through to the other end. The rooms in the prince’s castle, however, were not arranged in the common line. Instead, the rooms were placed in such a way that one could not see through all the rooms from one end, creating a sense of unknown. Not one person knew what to expect in the next room as they walked into each room, until they entered the room they chose to go through. H. H. Bell, Jr. argues about the very nature of the rooms, “In other words, the imperial suite or life span of Prospero is enclosed or embraced by two closed corridors or, if you will, by two unknowns.” (Bell 102). Bell helps support the fact that just as someone who walks through the room does not know what to expect, Prince Prospero does not know how his own life will turn out. Bell explains that the unknows are areas in the connection of rooms in which are unseen. In the sketch that poe drew of the chambers, the unknowns are located in the first room and the second room. The unknowns of these rooms represent the unknowns of any man. The unknown of when a man is born and the unknown of when a man will die. Bell explains that just as how the rooms are different from what was common, so was Prince Prospero’s life. Hubert Zapf notes that “The way in which the individual rooms are disposed convey a sense of disorder and irrationality rather than order and control” (Zapf 214). Just as the rooms are disordered, so is the prince’s life. He has absolutely no control over his own death and those around him. In addition, Bell says “Prospero’s life differed from that of most people- that it is more crooked and winding, more tortured and stress ridden than the lives of others which are straighter and perhaps calmer” (Bell 102). The formation of the rooms represent that the prince’s life is different in that he is royal and that he is not a good prince or person. He chose to ignore his own town and forget his people. Prince Prospero was only interested in saving himself and those of who were in the same class as him, leaving those of lower classes to be exposed to the red death. The prince was just as twisted as the rooms were depicted.

Not only are the arrangement of the rooms important, but so are the colors, “That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example, in blue – and vividly blue were its windows… The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black…” (Poe 2). The rooms are arranged in order from east to west, and each room and its windows are decorated the same color. The rooms are arranged in a specific sequence of colors: blue, purple, green, orange, white, violet, and black. Kermit Vanderbilt notes “with the first apartment blue and the seventh black, connotes generally the daily cycle of nature and Shakespeare’s seven ages of man” (Vanderbilt 381). The first apartment, the blue one, represents the prince’s birth. The last apartment, decorated black, represents the prince’s death. Similarly, Hubert Zapf writes “the seven differently colored rooms which are arranged from East to West…a symbolic teleology of human life which leads from the color blue to the color black…” (Zapf 215). The direction of the rooms represents the prince’s life from beginning to end. The last room, however, is the only room in which the panes of the windows are not the same color as the room. The chamber contained black velvet tapestries, black carpet and black décor, but the windows inside the room were painted scarlet. In question to as why the seventh chamber is the only room without the same colored windows, Patricia H. Wheat answers “Actual death is too horrible to be greeted with apathy, but a man-made black room, designed and furnished by the prince himself, can be endured” (Wheat 53). The prince, by having the last room decorated differently from the others, is attempting to control his environment. By having this environment under his control, he thinks he can control other aspects of his life, as well. Maybe by having the seventh chamber made in his own image, he hopes he will have control over his own death.

Inside the seventh chamber, against the western wall, stands a large, black clock. The clock rings loud and heavy every hour. Though the clock seems insignificant, it has an intense effect on everybody inside the castle, “while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brow as if in confused revery or meditation” ( Poe 2). Every time the clock strikes on the hour, everybody stops what they are doing and listen. With having the castle quiet, inhabitants have time to think. More specifically, think about the red death outside the walls of the castle. When the ringing of the clock stops, everybody returns to what they have been previously doing, and the process repeats the next hour. Furthermore, Patricia H. Wheat writes “The clock is the reminder of death, the enemy, and time, his companion” (Wheat 53). This clock signifies the coming of death. Every hour, when the clock rings throughout the castle, it breaks the entrancement of the party, and reminds the people of the reality of the situation they are in. The inhabitants of the castle know that they cannot possibly stay inside the castle forever. They can only hide themselves from the red death for so long. The clock reminds them of what is to come. At the stroke of midnight, death appears in the form of a masked figure. The clock rings twelve times for the twelfth hour. At this point, the clock makes everyone wary, and even more so since the people had more time to think. As they have time to think, they also have time to notice the masked figure who suddenly appears. At the very end of the story, when death has done its job, the clock stops, “and the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay” (Poe 4). The clock rang when death was coming, but when everyone died, so did the clock.

Near the end of the night, the masked figure appears. The figure represents the prince’s fate. No matter what the prince did or try to control, nothing would stop the inevitable from happening. Death wanted the prince, and it caught him in the end. In the beginning of the story, a brief description of the red death is provided along with how it affects the people who contract it, “There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution.” (Poe 1). The main symptom of the red death is blood. When reading the prince’s death, “fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero” (Poe 4), there was no blood at all when he was killed. The prince just died and fell to the ground, and the rest of his friends died after. It seems that death was not going to allow the prince and his people to escape the red death, so death decided to kill everyone in the castle himself.

In conclusion, most of the symbols that are included within the story represent aspects of the prince and his life. The castle, the masks, the rooms, the clock, and the masked figure prove how the prince is vital part of the story and everything is somewhat connected back to him.

Word count: 2030

Works Cited

Bell Jr., H. H. ““The Masque of the Red Death”: An Interpretation”. South Atlantic Bulletin, vol. 38, no. 4, Nov. 1973, pp. 101-5. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3197091. Accessed 26 September 2019.

Cassuto, Leonard. “The Coy Reaper: Unmasque-Ing the Red Death.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 25, no. 3, 1988, pp. 317. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=7685862&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 23 September 2019.

Dudley, David R. “Dead or Alive: The Booby-Trapped Narrator of Poe’s `Masque of the Red Death’.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 30, no. 2, 1993, p. 169. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9511241788&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 6 November 2019.

Hurley, Richard. “Fear Of Imminent Death.” BMJ: British Medical Journal, vol. 327, no. 7408, 2003, pp. 200. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25455083. Accessed 6 November 2019.

Karnath, David. “Poe’s Baroque Space and the Unity of Effect.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 15, no. 3, 1978, p. 263. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=7133378&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 6 November 2019.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Masque of Red Death.” http://www.public.asu.edu/~cajsa/eng200_fall07/The%20Masque%20of%20the%20Red%20Death.pdf. Accessed. 23 September 2019.

Roth, Martin. “Inside ‘The Masque of the Red Death.’” SubStance, vol. 13, no. 2, 1984, pp. 50–53. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/3684815. Accessed 6 November 2019.

Vanderbilt, Kermit. “Art and Nature in ‘The Masque of the Red Death.’” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 22, no. 4, 1968, pp. 379-89. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2932530. Accessed 6 November 2019

Wheat, Patricia H. “The Mask of Indifference in ‘The Masque of the Red Death.’” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 19, no.1, 1982, pp. 51. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9267845&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 23 September 2019.

Zapf, Hubert. “Entropic Imagination in Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death.’” College Literature, vol. 16, no. 3, 1989, pp. 211–18. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25111822. Accessed 6 November 2019.

Annotated Bibliography
Bell Jr., H. H. ““The Masque of the Red Death”: An Interpretation”. South Atlantic Bulletin, vol. 38, no. 4, Nov. 1973, pp. 101-5. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3197091. Accessed 26 September 2019.

In this article, Bell examines the sanity of prince Prospero and the seven rooms in the castle. Bell makes the argument that because of how much information Poe gave about each of the rooms, they must important to the story. Bell studies the rooms from beginning to end, from east to west, and from blue to black. The author researched the colors that Poe assigned to each room, and what they mean. I plan to utilize this information to demonstrate the symbolism of the rooms comparatively with the prince’s life.

Cassuto, Leonard. “The Coy Reaper: Unmasque-Ing the Red Death.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 25, no. 3, 1988, pp. 317. Academic Search Complete, doi:. Accessed 23 September 2019.

In the article, Leonard Cassuto makes the argument that the narrator of the story is death himself. The author provides examples where first person is used in the story and makes the arguments that there was only one person who lived at the end who could possibly tell the story, Cassuto also explains how the tone of the story and the way it was told provides understanding on why that narrator could possibly be death himself. I plan to use this information to bring further meaning to the symbol of death and how “he” was used.

Dudley, David R. “Dead or Alive: The Booby-Trapped Narrator of Poe’s `Masque of the Red Death’.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 30, no. 2, 1993, p. 169. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9511241788&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 6 November 2019.

David Dudley’s main focus of his article is unveiling the narrator of the short story. He goes into first-person clues that poe left behind and what they could mean. He provided an argument on how it could have been by mistake and then he counteracts that argument with explaining how it is most likely death himself. I will utilize the information given in this article to provide more support on how death is the narrator and how it gives a different effect to the story entirely.

Karnath, David. “Poe’s Baroque Space and the Unity of Effect.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 15, no. 3, 1978, p. 263. Academic Search Complete, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=7133378&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed 6 November 2019.

In the article, David Karnath writes about the importance of space and the effect is has. He goes into detail of the interior architecture of the chambers in the castle. He discusses how the way Poe described the way the room were placed was very different from what was considered common during that time. He argues that the way the rooms were designed was intentional and has meaning. I plan to use this information to give further meaning to the seven rooms.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Masque of Red Death.” http://www.public.asu.edu/~cajsa/eng200_fall07/The%20Masque%20of%20the%20Red%20Death.pdf. Accessed. 23 September 2019.

Vanderbilt, Kermit. “Art and Nature in ‘The Masque of the Red Death.’” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, vol. 22, no. 4, 1968, pp. 379-89. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2932530. Accessed 6 November 2019

Kermit Vanderbilt, in his article, explains the art in rooms. He describes the meanings of the colors of the room and how they represent the stages of life. He also explains how the direction of the rooms contribute to the cycle of life. Vanderbilt explains how the seven rooms relates to the seven stages of men, a described by Shakespeare. I plan to use this article to give value to the seven chambers.

Wheat, Patricia H. “The Mask of Indifference in ‘The Masque of the Red Death.’” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 19, no.1, 1982, pp. 51. Academic Search Complete, doi:. Accessed 23 September 2019.

Wheat wrote an article explaining the many indifferences that presented themselves in the short story. She provided a few examples on how the prince tried to control his environment, and his life. The castle and the black room are two prime examples of this. The castle shows how the prince and the people avoided death, and the black room was his own way of controlling death himself. I plan to use this information to provide meaning to the castle, room, death, and the prince.

The post The significance of symbolisms and the stages of man in the “Masque of Red Death” “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” appeared first on Versed Writers.

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