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Revelers' Death at the Ball
Do you feel sorry for the revelers in the story, or do you feel they deserve to die?
Call me insensitive, but I really don't feel much about these people one way or the other. They are so symbolic in the story that I don't relate to them as real human beings. Since Poe doesn't let the reader get to know them as individuals, it is hard to identify with them and their fate. I think Poe didn't develop the revelers as round characters because that didn't fit his literary purpose. He wanted them to act as symbols in developing his story's theme. They are merely functional characters.
The fact that this short story is an allegory has already been brought up. However, I encourage my class to think of the plague as more than just a symbol for death in general; what if it's social reality? Many people try to evade the very real problems of poverty, crime, injustice, and the like, all in the hopes of maintaining their own sense of happiness. How many times do we pass by the homeless holding signs, justifying it by speculating on the various liquor stores they might frequent should we offer a monetary gift. We wouldn't want to feed their habit, of course.
Then again, isn't this what the people within the walls of the castle were doing? They ignored the horrible plague that was devasting the poor and feeble without the walls, all the while participating in one truly festive and gallant party so as to take their minds off the problems of the outside world.
It's a huge stretch, but what if Poe is speaking to such ideas as Isolationism? While it was before his time, one can quickly find some ways to apply his story to such doctrines in a scholarly discussion.
I certainly don't relish the fact when anyone dies. I do not think the party-goers deserved to die, no. However, Prince Prospero invites all of his upper-class friends to his ball to "hole up" and try to avoid the Red Death, which is elitist and not fair. One of the points of the story is that no one can cheat death. Death does not recognize social status, race, religion, etc. It waits for no one.
No one really deserves to die, but in the story, Poe is definitely making these party goers seem unpleasant. They hole themselves up in this lavish house to drink, dance, eat, and be merry, all the while knowing that people outside the walls of the house are dying a horrible death. They consider themselves better than the people outside because of their money and their social status. However, death does not discriminate, and He appears to take their lives as well as the less fortunate, much to the revelers' shock and dismay. Perhaps an argument can be made that they deserve their fate since they chose to ignore the plight of the impoverished and did nothing good with the money and fortune they possess. Perhaps you can add that their vanity and pride was the cause of their fall...like so many "heros" in classic literature. They have become to cocky and comfortable with their own lives to reach out and help those in need.
Poe's story is an allegory. The upper-class revelers, isolating themselves from the rest of the populace, which is being decimated by the disease, attempt to stave off the inevitable, but enjoy themselves until the end. They apparently at least had the option to enjoy themselves, unlike those less fortunate, but in the end, poor and rich alike are all dead. Can we fault the revelers for their actions? Perhaps they knew they were all going to die anyway, so they lived it up while they could.
It's entirely possible that Poe is using this allegory to criticize the western world, that shuts itself off from the hardship, poverty, disease, and distress of the rest of the world, and live happily ignoring death. I think he likes reminding us that for all our grand attempts to hide ourselves away from death, we are still going to die. I like the "rain falls on the just and unjust alike" angle, but I think there's a lot more to it.
Perhaps the revelers are not evil, but attempting to delude themselves into believing they are somehow above the mortal class. Maybe they think they are gods? Maybe they think they should be?
Whether or not they feel this way, it is clear that there are parellels between the way western society sees now and saw then the poor (be they foreign or domestic) and the way the revelers see the dying masses outside. It effects them, as revealed by their masks, but what they are most afraid of is their connection with that mass.
If you want a modern story to compare with this one read "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin
It is not necessarily the revelers that are bad, but Prospero possibly ordering them to do what they are doing. If they have the means to try to avoid the plague, then they should have that right to do it.
It is inevitable to sense some form of retribution in the end, when you see that the plague did not forbid one group on the basis of their social and economical status. Yet, it is equally tormenting to feel that, since this is the case, even the reader himself might feel that "he or she might be next".
As with Poe's Gothic writing style, the allegorical nature of the story is to connect and feel with every sense, to attain a feeling of fear, and despair, and to identify with the plot to the maximum in an atmosphere of darkness. He achieves this and does produce such feelings in the readers.
THIS IS A QUESTION FORM DE STORY THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH
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