Masque of the Red Death and Hop Frog
The manner in which Poe addresses the topic of class differences and the struggle for power with his fictional characters resounds of his own struggles in his personal life. However, unlike in Hop Frog and the Masque of the Red Death, he was never himself able to emerge wholly victorious over his adversaries, including the publishing industry. In addition, Poe’s characters appear to hint that while wealth may be the source of power for many, the correct use of information itself is the surest path to the acquisition of power.
In the story by his name, Hop-Frog is not only physically dwarfed by the King but is dwarfed in terms of bodily capabilities, wealth, social standing, and even in numbers as he and Trippetta are but two against the King and his 7 ministers. However, Hop-Frog emerges victorious, as his mental capabilities are seemingly far greater than the Kings. The King is described as having “an especial admiration for breadth in a jest, and would often put up with length, for the sake of it” (Poe, 502). It becomes apparent that the King is not a smart man and his jester is indeed quite the opposite. The fact that Hop-Frog knows of the King’s weaknesses and tailors a perfect plan for vengeance to fit the occasion of the masque ball is a testament to his creativity and most useful utilization of information. In the Purloined Letter, the useful utilization of information, which is by keeping such information hostage, again allows for great power in government. In these two stories we are given the message that information is most valuable and leads to power. In reality, Poe also made good use of information in order to gain a wider subscription for the Southern Literary Messenger and realized this when he wrote, “The history of all magazines shows plainly that those which have attained celebrity were indebted for it to articles similar in nature to Berenice” (Kennedy, 69). Poe understood that statistics were in favor of tailoring macabre stories to increase subscription base rather than catering to the delicate tastes of the few. Increasing subscription would lead to greater sales and ultimately to greater power. However, Poe would come to see that only in his fictional world did the small persevere over the powerful.
To analyze Poe’s characterization of class differences and power struggle, we may look at the Masque of the Red Death. In this story, the Prince Prospero and his wealthy friends are shown as wicked in their utter disregard for the common man dying outside their gates. The idea of the upper class being evil and ignorant is seen again in the line, “The...