Existence and Literature

“The Masque of The Red Death” Is Coming

All living things are going to die, and all living things are by nature utterly helpless in their struggle to escape death; for death, the emphasis is on how rather than when it will happen. Edgar Allen Poe seeks to teach us a similar lesson with his gothic short-literature, which is a style he is well known for (Henderson et al., 4). Poe’s, “the Masque of the Red Death,” walks the mind’s eye through a grim, imaginary world full of themes such as life, death, and the fleeting nature of existence.

Poe, wisely, begins his story by informing the reader about the seven rooms that the story will take place in “…first, let me tell of the rooms which it was held in.” (Poe, 5). Each room can be understood as a metaphor for the stages of life; for instance, the first room, a blue room, can be understood as the beginning of life: birth; the last room, a red, velvet room, can be understood as the end of life: death. Poe, brilliantly, set up the story in a coherent arch by explaining these rooms first: birth to death.

Now, after explaining the stages of life, Poe explains the inevitability of death: the final stage. Poe writes in detail about how the prince and his friends lock themselves inside an abbey while a menacing plague spreads throughout the kingdom. Being locked inside an abbey, the prince and friends feel as though death can no longer reach them; however, their attempt to elude death’s reach had proven futile, for death found them. “The Red Death held illimitable dominion overall,” (Poe, 8).

The prince and his fellows were all killed in the last room, the final stage of life: death. And thus, it would seem the existential lessons of Poe’s writing had come to an end; however, there was yet another lesson which swayed in the background, a lesson to keep track of something most fundamental, waiting to be taught. Within the last room, the only clock to be found throughout the story sits. The clock, residing in the last room, can be understood as another metaphor for life: namely, that there comes a time wherein which we die. Time will be at the bedside of all deaths.

Works Cited

Henderson, Eric. Short fiction & critical contexts: a compact reader. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2010. Print.

Poe, Edgar. “The Masque of The Red Death”. In Henderson and Eric. Short fiction & critical contexts: a compact reader. Oxford: Oxford U Press, 2010. Print. Pp 5


Ideasinhat is a business development analyst and longtime reader of academic literature. He writes books and essays on science and philosophy, and posts them to this website. The essays, as with the books, cover topics from psychology, philosophy, and cognitive science to economics, politics, and law.

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