The Masque of the Red Death Questions and Answers
by Edgar Allan Poe

The Masque of the Red Death book cover
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What are some examples of personification in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

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What's worth being aware of, where personification is concerned, is that it can operate on two different levels. On the first level, there is personification when it is used purely as a form of figurative language. We see Poe make use of this in "The Masque of the Red Death." For example, in the third paragraph of the story, Poe writes:

It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.

Note the particular imagery of pestilence in a rage. Personification is defined by the attribution of human qualities on non-human objects. This particular phrasing serves as an apt example.

Later in the story, Edgar Allan Poe gives a memorable description of the clock, describing it as having lungs (the text reads, "there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical"). Again, it's worth noting that clocks do not have lungs; they are entirely mechanical Once again, living characteristics have been ascribed to an inanimate object.

At the same time, however, you can observe a second level of personification, well known examples of which would include the Grim Reaper (a personification of death), or Uncle Sam (a personification of the United States government). Poe makes use of this second level as well.

As this story approaches its conclusion, we meet a masked figure among the revelers. Poe describes him in the following terms:

The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat...

This masked figure is a personification of the Red Death itself, given a physical presence within the revels (with the Prince and the revelers rendered powerless before it). Thus Poe writes, in this story's final paragraph:

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 revellers 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.

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