In"The Masque of the Red Death," in his representation of Prince Prespero and the revelers, what moral does Poe suggest about class divisions in society?

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In “The Masque of the Red Death” Poe presents a scathing criticism of the excesses and callousness of the wealthy.  He suggests that it is wrong for the upper class to represent its own interests and not the interests of the entire society.

Prince Prospero is a grotesque figure.  While his people are dying, he locks himself and his courtiers in an elaborate and extensive party.  They don’t seem to mind.

They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. (enotes text p. 4)

Of course, death finds them anyway.  Prospero is shocked.  He thought that as long as he pulled himself out of society and society crumbled around him, he would be fine.

Poe reinforces the idea of Prospero’s faults by using the different rooms to represent the seven deadly sins.

He had directed, in great part, the moveable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fete; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. (p. 5)

The idea is not lost on the reader.  Prospero is a sinner.  The irony is that if Prospero had put his energy and money into fighting the plague, his people would have lived and so would he.

The larger metaphor here is that the haves should not live lavishly at the expense of the have-nots.  Prospero is not at all sympathetic.  Poe wants readers to stop and think.  Death does not care if you are rich or poor. 


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The Masque of the Red Death

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