Dichotomy of Colors in Poe's The Masque (Mask) of the Red Death

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Dichotomy of Colors in The Masque of Red Death

In "The Masque of Red Death," Poe uses aural, visual, and kinetic images to create the effect of fear in a joyful masque. Poe starts off with a description of the "Red Death." He gives gory detail of how it seals one's fate with Blood. He tells of pain, horror and bleeding. Moreover, the pestilence kills quickly and alienates the sick. This is Poe's image of death. He only bothers to tell it's symptoms. He doesn't go into the fear present in the lives of people with the disease. He describes the scene of redness and blood streaming from the pores, the face. His description of the afflicted's pain also adds to the graphically explicit exposé of the red death disease. The red death image is morbid and has a modern day counterpart that aids Poe in creating a wonderfully horrific scene. Many of the symptoms mentioned in Poe's red death fit the modern day Ebola. Both diseases are of unknown origin and attack quickly causing massive bleeding. Just as Ebola turned the society in Africa upside down, Red Death encourages desperate Prospero to put up iron gates to protect himself. This disease is meant to cause fear in the people. Referring to Red Death, Poe draws comparisons to an Avatar, a god sent image. It implies a god given invincibility to Red Death and dooms the victim to alienation from society and a painful death. Just looking at the description -- imagining the scene -- creates that fear and horror.

In contrast to the morbid images associated with red death, Poe describes a group of happy masqueraders. The central figure among the joyous people is Prince Prospero who, as suggested by his name, is prosperous and has tons of entertainment. He is not worried because his wh...

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... go. That fear, manifested as Red Death, "stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock ..." and all fall in death with his presence. Even the clock "went out with that of the last of the gay."

Poe paints a dichotomy of bright, varied, and interesting colors contrasting with dark black. These colors blend, even though one may fight and try to protect itself against the other. Using aural as well as visual images, Poe presents to the reader the clock, a symbol for time, which lurks as an enemy waiting to unleash an inevitable horror on the masses. With this inevitable and explosive mixing, Poe paints a picture of happiness, gaiety, and liveliness, that decays into a dark abyss of the last, black apartment.

Works Cited

Poe, Edgar Allen. "The Mask of the Red Death." The Works of Edgar Allen Poe. Ann Arbor, MI: State Street Press. 482-487.
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