In Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death, what is the proof that it is written in third-person omniscient?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Masque of the Red Death, that the story is told in the third-person is immediately evident by its tone and descriptions:

“But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious.”

“It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held.”

So, right away, we know that Poe is telling his story in the third-person, and that he is using an omniscient narrator.  That the story is told in “third-person omniscient,” however, requires a bit more exploration of the text. Third-person omniscience is present when the narrator is privy to the inner thoughts of the characters he or she describes.  This really isn’t the case in The Masque of the Red Death.  On the contrary, the narrator isn’t part of the action.  Rather he or she is a distant, impersonal presence, his or her role strictly limited to the provision of straight-forward descriptions of setting and action.  The omniscience, however, is in the narrator’s knowledge of all that, is, and will happen.  The closest Poe’s narrator comes to displaying knowledge of the inner thoughts of other characters is in his description of Prospero’s mood as the duke transitions from jovial and arrogant to fearful and vulnerable, as in the following passage in which Prospero cowers from sight of the intruder:

“It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all.”

Definitions of “third-person omniscience” generally emphasize the narrator’s access to the thoughts of the characters.  That, after all, is the whole meaning of “omniscience” in this context.  Poe’s narrator entertains no such illusions, however, regarding the inner man, focusing instead on outward expressions of happiness or, later, fear.  To the extent that “third-person omniscience” can refer to the impartial narrator simply describing events and characters in a manner that suggests more knowledge than an actual participant could hope to ascertain, though, then Poe does tell his story in this manner.  The best evidence, then, that Poe employs “third-person omniscience” in The Masque of the Red Death, occurs in the story’s final paragraph, when the narrator describes the devastation wrought by the intruder:

“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 the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

Note, here, that the plague has breached the castle walls, and has swept through Prince Prospero’s guests, leaving no one alive.  Yet, the narrator was present to record the evening’s event, and lived to tell about it.  If that isn’t omniscience, then nothing is.

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The Masque of the Red Death

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