Essay on Symbolism in The Masque of the Red Death

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Symbolism in The Masque of the Red Death


Poe uses heavy symbolism throughout the story to convey his underlying theme: the
inevitability of death and the futility of trying to escape death. The prince's name, Prospero,
generally denotes happiness and prosperity. The Prince possesses these characteristics yet is
faced with a plague that he desperately attempting to avoid. This oxymoron is used to hint
that this man of exuberance will soon be faced with tragedy.
The fires in each of the suite rooms serve as a representation of death. Poe depicts
them to be "a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire that projected its rays through tinted
glass…But in the western or black chamber, the effect of the firelight upon the
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Poe uses the element of darkness as a visual representation of
death.
The black clock is also a symbolic element in Poe's story. "Its pendulum swung to and
fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute hand made the circuit…it was
observed that the giddiest turned pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over
their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation". The timepiece represents the rapid
passing of time in life. Every time the clock strikes the hour, the musicians quit playing
and all of the revelers momentarily cease their celebrating. It is as though each hour is
"to be stricken" upon their brief and fleeting lives. To emphasize the brevity of life, the
fleeting of life and time, and the nearness of death, Poe reminds the reader that between the
striking of each hour, there elapses "three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that
flies."
The significance of the seventh room is apparent throughout the entire story. Black
usually symbolizes death, and it tends to be used in connection with death. Furthermore, in
describing the black décor of the room, the narrator says it is "shrouded" in velvet, shrouded
being a term generally referring to death. In addition, the window panes are "scarlet-a deep
blood color." The relationship between blood and death is an essential aspect because Poe
wants the reader to have a…