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Literary Devices Used in "The Masque of Red Death"

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The short story “The Masque of Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe appeared in 1842 and is one of examples of classical works of the author written in the best traditions of gloomy gothic imagery. The esthetics of symbolism, present in the story as one of the pioneering narratives and a trend-setter of this literary movement, is clearly palpable. And though this work is hallmarked by Poe’s vivid vocabulary and bright expressions, it is the peculiar nature of this particular story that allows defining it as the one possessing a lot of symbols, allegories and hints allowing multiple interpretation of this work of fiction.

The figure in mask is the central symbol of the story. Knowing the title only, a reader anticipates a kind of dramatic, tragic and mystical narrative, but the suspense of the key personage of the story is skillfully held by Poe till the end. The mysterious disease referred to as Red Death impersonated as the party-crusher of Prince’s masquerade as a figure “in habiliments of the grave” is a symbol of the inevitable death. As well as this guest, it comes to everyone and without the announcement. The nature of the lethal disease is still a debatable question among the critics, but the literary value of it outweighs the actual referencing. The fact that it managed to creep into the secure abbey of the royal person is only a proof that no money, glory or standing can guarantee salvation. In such a way, the image put in the title creates one of the most mysterious symbols of the short story.

The image of the Prince is also an allegory. He embodies all the rich and powerful of the world who think that they can be secured from the misfortunes of the poor. The name Prospero sounds as a social mocking, rather unusual in the context of the Poe’s work. Escape to the abbey in the middle of the pestilence and the subsequent manifestation of cowardly behavior does not characterize the royal person positively. In this regard, the short story is so full of different allegories that it can be called a tale, and assessing the literary weigh of the author one can even call “The Masque of Red Death” a parable.

Furnishing of the castellated abbey is described at length by Poe. The beauty and grandeur of the seven rooms with a separated color attributed to the decoration stays in contradiction with the houses of the poor who die in thousands from the unknown disease. And the eeriest of them bearing the ominous colors of the Red Death itself can be assessed as a poor attempt to seem brave. As the story shows, there was not a sign of braveness in the Prince, nor in his guests of courtiers. Masquerading in these rooms creates a classical reminiscence of “a feast during the plague”. In such a way, the whole abbey can be regarded as a symbol of the unsuccessful escapism.

Paradoxically, the gloomy nature of the figure in mask is not paid attention to from the very start of the feast, for everyone is wearing a costume. Such a plain outfit, completely complying with the conditions of the masquerade, may symbolize how easy it is for death to get who it comes for. Probably, in this regard the symbolism of color is worth mentioning. The diversity of colors of the room in Prince’s abbey stays in contradiction with the figurative nature of the red color. Red is so tightly associated with blood, and, hence, death from the unknown disease, that it is no wonder that the red room was so frightening.

Edgar Allan Poe is considered to be a master of mystical prose. The short story “The Masque of Red Death” is a bright illustration of the genre affiliation. The author is not only easily recognizable lexically, but also through a system of symbols used in the narration. The figure in the mask, the Prince, the decoration of his abbey and its color scheme serve as examples of symbols of the story and make it more vivid and impressive.

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