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"...In the black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the black hangings through the blood-tinted panes was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all" (210). This quote serves to demonstrates Edgar Allan Poe's descriptive abilities. In "The Masque of the Red Death" Poe gives much detail about the setting. Poe uses detail about the setting to make the story believable, to add irony to the story, and to create an atmosphere appropriate for the appearance of the "Red Death."
In retrospect, "The Masque of the Red Death" is not a vary believable story. However,
Poe's description of the setting presents the reader with such a realistic image of the scene that the reader cannot help but believe the story when first it is first read. The reader is manipulated by the author into believing that the story could actually be true. Poe accomplishes this manipulation by describing the setting in great detail. Seemingly half of the story is setting, rather than actual action. Poe begins with description of the 'Red Death,' proceeds to describe the
'castellated abbey,' and finally the 'imperial suit.' By paying such close attention to detail, the author has created a believable image in the mind of the reader. The creation of such believable aspects of the story is important. Within this believable image, the unbelievable arrival of the masked figure (the "Red Death") gains credibility. Without such believable aspects, the arrival of such a presence would not be credible.
Poe uses setting to create irony in the story. The description of the castellated abbey
includes the facts that, "a strong and lofty wall girdled it," and that the gates had been welded shut (209). Both the high wall and the welded gates were intended to keep the Red Death out of the castle, when, ironically, they actually trapped it inside. Poe leaves clues to the reader that this may occur. He includes the statement that the welded gates prevent "egress" as well as "ingress."
Furthermore, a girdle is typically used to hold something in, rather than keep something out.
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The atmosphere of the imperial suit is very clear to the reader. All of the rooms are
pleasant, with the notable exception of the black room. In this manufactured setting, Poe creates a ghostly atmosphere with his description of color and light in the black room. The fact that the room is black immediately suggests death to the reader. The reader is further lead to believe that death is associated with this room when Poe describes the window panes as "a deep blood color"
(210). The light in the black room is described as "ghastly in the extreme" (210). Such
descriptions contribute further to the eerie atmosphere the reader associates with the black room.
In this manner, Poe uses setting to create the ghostly atmosphere where the "Red Death" may appear.
Through his use of setting, Poe succeeds in providing the reader with a credible base for an incredible story. Irony and mood are also created through the use of setting. Consequently, setting is not simply a backdrop for the story, but rather one of the story's most important components. This advanced use of setting demonstrates Poe's quality as an author.
Poe, Edgar Allen. "The Mask of the Red Death." The Works of Edgar Allen Poe. Ann Arbor, MI: State Street Press.