Edgar Allan Poe believed that everything in a short story should focus on one aspect. In “The Masque of the Red Death” the driving force is death. All of the story’s elements lead to the inevitable death of the prince and all of his subjects which is exactly how the story ends.
All stories begin with a basic list of ingredients: exposition (the initial incident and important beginning facts); the rising action (includes the conflict and turmoil for the protagonist); the climax (the most important part of the story); the falling action (the events that lead toward the resolution of the story); and the conclusion (hopefully everything ends satisfactorily for the reader).
The Red Death covers Prince Prospero’s realm. It is a hideous, horrific disease symbolized by blood coming from every orifice of the victim. The disease ravages his people. The Prince decides to hide from the disease in an abbey with many of his friends.
After a few months in the abbey, the Prince decides to give a masquerade party to break the monotony of the cloistered time. This is not the usual party; costumes of the partiers must be grotesque. Nothing is normal for the prince.
The hall will be decorated representing the passing of the day. Each room will have a different color scheme ending with the ebony room indicating the night time. Everything is weird at the party. The giant black clock threateningly chimes the hour and makes everyone freeze in place. Afterwards, the party goers laugh nervously and intend not to let it happen again.
As the people dance, there is a sense of wild frenetic energy throughout the hall.
The complication comes when a guest is seen covered in red as though he has been sprinkled with blood. He comes at midnight when the clock chimes the time. All of the partiers are scared senseless. Prospero orders the bloody guest to stop, and the others to grab him. Instead,the man rushes back toward the black room.
Prince Prospero runs after the ghastly figure, and this brings the highest moment of the story when the prince confronts the Red Death. The Red Death turns and faces Prospero, who immediately falls down and dies.
The revelers try to capture the “spectral figure”; however, they discover that it is really the Red Death who came to kill the prince. It was only a costume.
“And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revelers in the blood bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”
All of the party goers die and bleed all over the floor. The clock stops, the candles go out, and the party is over. The Red Death conquered everything.
Take a look at the Enotes study guide for the story, which explains that it is an allegory- i.e. a story that has a message on a figurative level in addition to a literal level. In this case, the story is not just about a strange party visited by a creepy guy who kills everyone, but an allegory about rich people who are trying to avoid the Plague that's decimating the population of the country. So when you're looking for "literary elements," you're looking for ways in which Poe communicates that figurative message. For example, one literary element that this story is famous for is its use of color symbolism: the "red death" suggests a bloody demise, and the seventh (last) chamber is red to symbolize that the party, and the party goer's lives, will end in the red death. For another example, consider the ticking clock in the story as a symbol of the party goer's lives ticking away as they approach that death.