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How does Poe's life and social conditions (events, politics, ideas, etc.) influence the...

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dwmettel | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 28, 2011 at 7:31 AM via web

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How does Poe's life and social conditions (events, politics, ideas, etc.) influence the writing of "The Masque of the Red Death?"

I'm looking for historical, biographical, intellectual, or social experiences of Edgar Allen Poe that would have influenced the writing of this piece. Thank you

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 1, 2011 at 3:25 PM (Answer #1)

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The original spelling of Poe's short story's title was mask; however, it was later changed to masque, thus tying the title to the eighteenth century masqued balls in which people disguised themselves so well that classes easily intermingled in secret erotic enjoyment.  The revelers of Prince Prospero are just such masqued guests where the prince had "provided all the appliances of pleasure."  The plague to which "The Masque of the Red Death" relates is the plague of tuberculosis that took the lives of many, including Poe's mother, his foster mother, and finally, his young bride.  That this disease plagued many others during the Industrial Age is a matter of historical record. Like the "red death" of Poe's story, tuberculoisis, or consumption as it was called in Poe's day, was disguished by the expectorating of blood.

The style of Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" is also appropriate to his time as the Gothic genre was in vogue after Mary Shelley's publication of Frankenstein, and in America Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."  Along with gothic literature, there were the impressionist artists, who portrayed objects in the play of light, as Poe did.  With such light upon the faces of the guests, they become disturbing and grotesque.  This transformation of what is seen contributes greatly to the overall effect of Poe's allegorical tale.

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