Red Death Critique
Even though Edgar Allen Poe has publicly stated his dislike for the technique of allegory (a type of metaphor abstract). Uses of it can be found in his short story “The Masque of the Red Death”. Two that are evident are; the clock that signals Deaths approach, and the repetition of the number seven to implies life’s end.
In the story a prince named Prospero is ruling in the mists of a plague that has killed half of his population. But instead of helping his people during their time of need, Prince Prospero decides to gather a thousand of his friends, host an extended quarantine party until the plague had run its coarse. In his castle, Prospero has nearly everything of the outside world, music, drink, food, and performers. Everything except the “Red Death”. The Guests spend their time in masquerade, where they dress in costumes of fantasy. The masquerade takes place in seven rooms, each its own color, with the seventh room being a blood red, and containing a clock that’s hourly chime causes a brief moment of stillness to fall over the party.
During the sixth month of the party, as the clock strikes midnight, the crowd notices a new guest. The new guest is wearing the costume of “Red Death”, and causes a stir as the others notice his bloody appearance. The Prince is furious about the disturbance and orders the intruder stopped, but his orders are not followed due to the fear inspired by “Red Death”. Overwhelmed with anger, the Prince takes control, and tries to kill Death. As Prospero chases Death into the seventh room, the ever-watching guests anxiously watch the confrontation in the other rooms. Inside Death overcomes the Prince, and kills Prospero with his touch. When the guests gather the nerve, they rush the room to discover what has happened. They find the red masque hidden in the clock’s shadow, and trample it to pieces as they start to become frantic as they realize their doom. Not long after, they are taken with the plague and die too.
“The history of the world was thought to consist of seven ages, just as an individual’s life had seven stages. The ancient world had seven wonders; universities divided learning into seven subjects; there were seven deadly sins with seven corresponding cardinal virtues, and the number seven is important in mysticism.” (4)
The seventh room represents the end of life’s journey, and the inevitable moment of death. The seventh room is never used due to its creepy decor, until Prospero is confronted, and eventually killed by “Death”.
The ringing of the clock in the story was used to signal Death’s arrival, and it caused the guests to stop as if they were frozen. Womack believes that the clock take on human aspects as Poe describes it having a face and hands (4). When “Death” is killed in the end, the clock also stops “breathing” and dies with “Death”.
Even if he didn’t like the technique, Poe’s use of allegory broadened the content of the story. His hints of the “cycle of life and death” gave the seventh room a new meaning.
Womack, Martha. “Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death.’”
The Poe Decoder.Pub. Christoffer Nilsson.12 Sept.2000