Death in Edgar Allan Poe's Life and The Masque of the Red Death
As a man surrounded by death and horrible happenings, it is no wonder
that almost the entire collection of Edgar Allan Poe's works is about death.
When Poe was very young, his father left his mother alone with three young
children. At the age of two, Poe lost his mother. Many other deaths and terrible
occurrences manifested themselves in Poe's life, from the refusal of his
adoptive father, John Allan, to accept Poe's attempts at reconciliation, to the
request he could not fulfill of his dying adoptive mother, Fanny Allan. "To a
world fascinated by the bizarre and the macabre, Poe has often seemed an
embodiment of the satanic characters of his own fiction, the archetype of the
neurotic genius" (McMichael 727). Poe's most recognized works are the bizarre
tales of terror, death, decay, and madness. Poe's greatest tale of horror is The
Masque of the Red Death, in which aspects of death are apparent in the title and
the beginning paragraphs, the theme, the symbols, and the ending paragraph of
The title of the work contains the direct use of the word death. This
title prepares the readers for the "horrible with no other end than horrible
itself" content that Poe's first tales all produced upon examination (Etienne).
Starting with the title and ending with the last word, The Masque of the Red
Death is a horrific tale about death and destruction. The opening paragraph of
The Masque of the Red Death gives words such as devastated, hideous, and
termination. The description of the effects of the Red Death plague on the
bodies of its victims constructs a terribly frightening incident: "There were
sharp pains, and sudden dizziness...profuse bleeding at the pores,...scarlet
stains upon the body and especially upon the face...ban[ning] him out from the
aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-man." The idea that the entire incident
lasts around one half hour and provides no fore-warning also makes greater the
dread of becoming victim to the disease (Ransome ed. 71). The contrast between
this opening paragraph and the following paragraph is much like that of a
love-hate relationship. The idea of the main character in the tale, Prince
Prospero, being "happy and dauntless and sagacious" in the second paragraph
makes the death-related words in the first paragraph that much more horrific.
The "iron walls" blocking out the plague make for a strong contender, but the
final two sentences of the second paragraph prepare the reader for the
inevitable, "All these and security were within. Without was the 'Red Death'"
(Ransome ed. 71-72). The idea that the plague can be held out forever becomes
the certainty that "Death cannot be barred from the palace...because it is in the
blood" (Kennedy 202).
Considered Poe's "most lavish evocation of fatality," The Masque of
the Red Death shows the...