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Varying Attitudes Toward Death in the Masque of the Red Death

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Varying Attitudes Toward Death in the Masque of the Red Death

"Since the day of my birth, my death began its walk. It is walking toward me, without hurrying." Edgar Allen Poe provides us symbolically with the reaction of man to the pursuance of death that Jean Cocteau described before, in his gothic short story, "The Masque of the Red Death." Prince Prospero symbolizes the optimist who seeks to avoid death. The Masqueraders represent the pessimist-the carefree who seek to forget about death. The Masked Red Death is the ultimate realization and enlightenment of death's power over all-the realist view. Poe's work symbolically demonstrates the attitudes of man through Prince Prospero, the Masqueraders, and the Masked Red Death.

Prince Prospero symbolizes the optimist who is defiant and furious. Prospero believes that death can be evaded if not escaped entirely. Prospero seeks to protect himself from the red death, a disease that has ravaged his kingdom. He does this by taking a thousand of his friends, with whom he "retires to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys" (Poe 176). However he does more than try to dodge or hide from death's powers. Prospero has his courtiers take hammers and furnaces to weld the bolts shut so to leave no "ingress or egress," effectively he barricades himself taking faith the physical barriers of man can somehow defeat the non-corporeal entity. While the pestilence rages outside the prince's secure shelter, Prospero arranges that a masquerade or ball take place. He and his revelers take part in jovial and pleasant activities during a time when hundreds are suffering. What's more is that he has his party be "waltzers" (Poe 177). Such a dance involves t...

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...to death in the masqueraders one can see the third attitude toward death, one of understanding and acceptance because the ignorance that shrouded their eyes has been removed. With understanding which comes when one becomes closer to death one may adopt the third attitude which Bhagavad Gita has, "Death is as sure for that which is born, as birth is for that which is dead. Therefore grieve not for what is inevitable."

Sources Consulted:

Cassuto, Leonard. " The Coy Reaper: Unmasque-ing the Red Death". Stud Short Fiction, 25(1988) 317-320.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of Mystery and Imagination Norwalk: Heritage P.,1969. 317-322.

Starret, Vincent. "Tales of Mystery and Imagination." Norwalk: Heritage P., 1969. Intro.

Wheat, Patricia H. " The Masque of Indifference in The Masque of Red Death". Stud Short Fiction, 19(1982), 51-56.
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