The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe ★★★★☆ #ShortStoryReview

12703.i.43, opposite 248

Primary Genre(s): Horror, Short Story
Published: May 1842 in Graham’s Magazine
Page count: 26
Format: eBook
Image: Illustration for “The Masque of the Red Death” by Harry Clarke, 1919

My rating: ★★

Summary from Goodreads
The story follows Prince Prospero’s attempts to avoid a dangerous plague known as the Red Death by hiding in his abbey. He, along with many other wealthy nobles, has a masquerade ball within seven rooms of his abbey, each decorated with a different color. In the midst of their revelry, a mysterious figure disguised as a Red Death victim enters and makes his way through each of the rooms. 

My Thoughts
Here I am with another Poe short story. Can you tell I have a collection of Poe’s stories that I am working through?

As I stated previously, I find it hard to write a pros and cons list (my typical format) for short stories, so instead I will just share some things I thought about and learned after reading The Masque of the Red Death. Keep in mind, it is nearly impossible to talk about a short story without some type of spoiler, so proceed with caution if you haven’t read the story yourself.

  1. On a very basic level this is simply a story about trying to beat death. Prospero believes that if he secures himself and his friends within his castle he will be able to keep the plague away. He even goes so far as to have the doors welded shut.
  2. Sadly, Prospero and his friends have zero concern for the rest of the population that are suffering and dying outside the castle walls and those welded doors. Seems quite callous to party and enjoy yourself while others are dying from “sharp pains”, “sudden dizziness”, and “profuse bleeding at the pores”.
  3. Prospero and his friends learn the hard way that ultimately no one can escape death, no matter how prosperous and sheltered they are.
  4. The last line in the story is “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” So chilling!
  5. I thought the imagery of the single clock in the 7th room (the black room with red lighting) was effective… a subtle reminder to everyone that time is running out.
  6. Poe uses the word “avatar” in this story — “Blood was its Avatar and its seal – the redness and the horror of blood”. How many of you thought avatar was a modern word? Avatar derives from a Sanskrit word meaning “descent” and it was first used in English in the late 18th Century. Click here to read more about the meaning and history of the word avatar.
  7. Overall, the story evoked several emotions – sadness, disgust, fear, outrage, dread, and despair. If you want to get the feel of what a Gothic story is like this is a wonderful primer!

As with The Cask of Amontillado which I reviewed previously, I read a few analyses of this story after I read it for myself. Again, there are many theories and analyses out there about the meaning of the story. I will include a few of them here:

  1. The multiple single-colored rooms may be representative of the human mind or human personalities.
  2. Images of blood may indicate corporeality – life and death.
  3. The entire story is an allegory about trying to cheat death.
  4. Some dispute the story is an allegory, particularly since Poe apparently admitted to disliking that type of writing.
  5. The castle is supposed to be a secure, enclosed space; however the stranger (Red Death) is able to sneak inside, thus emphasizing that control is an illusion.
  6. Some say that the story is autobiographical, depicting Poe’s need to seek refuge from the outside world (outside the protections of his wealthy foster family).
  7. The Red Death is a fictitious disease, but is thought to be inspired by tuberculosis. Poe’s wife was suffering from tuberculosis at the time he wrote this story. It could also be cholera as Poe had experience with that as well. Others suggest it was the Bubonic Plague. Still others think the Red Death represents “original sin”.

Most of the analyses above are summarized from the Wikipedia article about the story and I encourage you to go read the analyses in a little more detail than I included above. There is also an awesome analysis at www.poedecoder.com/essays/masque and at https://www.gradesaver.com/poes-short-stories/study-guide/summary-the-masque-of-the-red-death. Both are worth reading if you are interested in this short story.

I’m definitely looking forward to reading more of Poe’s work!

10 thoughts on “The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe ★★★★☆ #ShortStoryReview

  1. As a teenager I read all the Poe stories I could get my hands on but I haven’t read any since. He was a master of mood and atmosphere, wasn’t he? That last line is perfection.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d still like to read more of Poe’s works. I have a collection of his stories from a uni class – I actually ended up taking an American lit pre-1900 and short fiction class at the same time and in both we talked so much about Poe I got sick of him! But there are a lot of good and creepy ones

    Liked by 1 person

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