What does the ugly figure symbolize in "The Masque of the Red Death"? What does the clock symbolize?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The ugly figure in Poe's story "The Masque of the Red Death" represents death itself. Prospero and his thousand privileged guests have isolated themselves from the rest of the population and sealed the gates of their sanctuary to prevent anyone from entering or leaving. They all pass the time in frolic, like the guests of Louis XIV at Versailles. But Poe's thesis is that death is inescapable regardless of wealth or rank. The big clock which tolls the hours as they pass is intended to symbolize the passage of time, which will inevitably cause every single person to die when his or her turn comes. It is significant that the music and dancing always stops when the clock begins to toll the hour, because it is reminding everyone that their lives are all measured by time and that each of them has an "appointment" with death. "The Masque of the Red Death" is an appropriate symbol for humanity. People know that their plans are futile because their deaths will take everything away from them, even their existence in others' memories; and yet they continue to eat, drink, and make merry as if they are immortals.


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