In "The Masque of the Red Death," what is the meaning of the seven rooms in the abbey?

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ddelrie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The rooms in Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" symbolize the progress of life from birth to death. The first evidence of this lies in the alignment of the rooms themselves. Poe explicitly states that they move from east to west, referencing the movement of the sun from dawn to dusk. This serves as an extended metaphor for human life. The first room, blue, lies at the abbey's easternmost wall. We can take it to symbolize birth, the start of life, the dawn. Meanwhile, the final room, at the west, is black. It symbolizes death, the end of life, the dusk. The other rooms represent bright, happy colors up until the next to last room, violet. This color seems to hint at the setting of the sun.

It also worth noting that a clock rests at the western wall. Everyone in the abbey already fears this room, and when the clock chimes the hour, "there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company." The clock represents the inevitability of death, the very thing Prospero and his retinue are trying to avoid. Further, the windows in this final room are "blood-tinted panes," and the light gives everyone who enters the chamber the impression of having a blood-streaked face. The title of this story alone reveals how closely Poe associates the color red with death.

Finally, when the Red Death does come, it begins in the blue room, and Prospero and the others pursue it through all the chambers until they reach the black one. Even in life, even in birth, the specter of death is present. The rooms in the abbey represent the passage of life, from birth to death, and the inescapable fear of that eventuality that no living being can escape. 

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The Masque of the Red Death

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