Masque of the
Red Death
By: Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
Melodramatic Life
• Determining the facts of Poe’s life has proved difficult, as
lurid legend became entwined with fact even before he
• Some of these legends were spread by Poe himself.
• Two days after Poe’s death, his literary executor began a
smear campaign, rewriting Poe’s correspondence so as to
alienate many of his friends.
Characteristics of Poe’s
detective stories
• Poe places veiled clues before the reader.
• The writer/narrator strives to appear objective.
• Poe would have liked to solve everything by the mind.
• He was disturbed by what he could not solve by reason.
• The climax of the story is the narrator’s explanation of the
Poe and the Gothic
• Poe did not want to write gothic stories; he started his
career spoofing the Gothic.
• He said that he wrote, “Tales of terror, not of Germany, but
of the soul.”
• He transformed tales of terror into psychological stories; he
delved into the mysterious recesses of the human mind.
Elements of Gothic in Poe’s
• Grim setting
• Landscapes are often reflections of character’s mind.
• Unusual buildings, extremes of nature, eccentric works of art
• Very few of his stories take place in America; most take place
in Europe or Never-never-land.
Other elements of the Gothic
• Hidden evil
• Unspeakable, mysterious crimes, including incest and parracide
• Obsession with Death
• Ghosts, blood, body parts
• Maniacal Laughter
• The discovered manuscript
• gives responsibility to someone else
• Deformity
• the groteque--people who don’t look right are capable of activity beyond
the norm
An element of Poe’s style
• Poe uses vocabulary to create setting, for rhetorical effect,
rather than for information.
• Modern horror films use music to create atmosphere; Poe
used vocabulary.
Poe invented the "Red Death" for this story but he bases it
on both the Black Death and tuberculosis.
The Black Death
In the 1300s, a plague called the Black Death
swept across Europe, killing as many as 25 million
people. Most of those who caught the disease died
within three to five days after their symptoms
appeared. Subsequent outbreaks of plague
continued in Europe until recent times.
·TB = infectious disease that usually attacks the lungs, but can attack
almost any part of the body.
·spread from person to person through the air.
·When people with TB in their lungs or throat cough, laugh, sneeze,
sing, or even talk, the germs that cause TB may spread throughout the
·Many of the women in Poe's life died from TB including his mother and
his wife.
· He realizes his wife has TB when she stands up to sing one evening
and a drop of blood appears on her lip.
·He later develops the story "Masque of the Red Death" based on his
fear of this life ending disease.
Once a symbol is established it can be used to represent
another becomes an allegory. One example is
this cover from The New Yorker magazine after the
economy crashed.
Look out for characters and/or symbols that represent
something greater than themselves.
Two levels of meaning:
1. the literal elements of the plot (the colors of the rooms, for
2. their symbolic counterparts, which often involve large philosophical
concepts (such as life and death).
Symbols to watch for:
The use and importance of color
The importance of numbers
Symbolism of East/West
The number 7
Allegory in "Masque of the Red Death"
• Do you know the seven deadly sins?
• The seven ages of man?
• The seven cardinal virtues?
Symbolic Numbers:
The Seven Deadly Sins:
Which of these sins will
Prince Prospero commit?
·second childhood
Which stage might the ebony clock symbolize?
The Seven Ages of Man:
Symbolism:East to West
What direction are the rooms lined up in?
What color is each room?
peace, intelligence, stability, depression, life
royalty, spirituality
life, growth, envy, youth, spring, health
energy, warmth, autumn
purity, cleanliness, innocencence
femininity, grace, elegance
evil, death, night
anger, blood, heat, love, power
The Meaning of Color:

Pre-Reading: Masque of the Red Death