27 March 2014
They’re All Mad Here:
A Literary Comparison of “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Masque of the Red Death”
Internationally known romantic author Edgar Allan Poe has always represented darkness, madness, and death in his stories. With these representations, Poe must provide this mood for the reader to become engulfed in the madness. In his tale “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Poe uses descriptive details about the dull color and ruggedness of the house and the Ushers themselves to set a gloomy mood. He also describes in detail Roderick Usher’s descent into madness and his fearfulness of death. In turn, he depicts brightly colored chambers in “The Masque of the Red Death,” but the arrangement of colors provides a chaotic aesthetic to the viewer. The madness and fear represented by Prospero in the “Red Death” can easily be compared to the madness and fear represented by Roderick Usher in “The House of Usher.”
Poe begins many of his tales by describing in great detail the setting and colors of the story. In “The Fall of the House of Usher” the setting is dark and gloomy with “bleak walls… vacant eye-like windows… [and] decayed trees,” (Poe). The house displays little to no color and has a run-down appearance. Upon entering the house, the narrator describes an inherent darkness and bleakness throughout. In the study where the narrator’s childhood friend, Roderick Usher, waits for him, the room has an absence of light setting a bleak appearance,
“an atmosphere of sorrow… and [an] irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all,” (Poe)
The narrator also describes an inherent lack of color in the physical appearance and personalities of the Ushers. He describes Roderick Usher as having a thin face with thin lips, and notes that he has become pale. Roderick’s twin sister, Madeline, is also briefly described as having similar features. By having these characters be as physically run-down as the house itself, Poe better sets the gloomy darkness for the mood of the story. The lack of color in both the house and the Ushers gives both the narrator and the reader an uneasy feeling providing a somewhat chaotic sense of gloom to both. Poe does an excellent job by using the lack of color to set the tone of the tale so the reader knows what to expect on the upcoming pages.
On the other hand, Poe uses bright colors depicted in a specific pattern to represent the chaos in “The Masque of the Red Death.” Each one of the seven chambers of Prospero’s abbey is painted in a precise manner. The first chamber is painted blue, the second purple, the third green, the fourth orange, the fifth white, the sixth violet, and the seventh black. A number of literary experts including Eric H. Du Plessis have debated the reasoning behind the colors chosen for each room. Many believe them to represent the seven ages of man or the seven deadly sins, but the colors are mainly using an aesthetic to bring...