What does the abbey represent in "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When the abbey is first introduced in the text, the narrator comments that it represents the Prince's wild and "eccentric" design tastes. (This is further confirmed later in the text when its unusual layout and color schemes are described.)

During the opening of the story, the abbey also represents the Prince's desire to protect his friends from this deadly pestilence. That the abbey is "secluded" reinforces this idea: by placing his friends in a hidden and cut-off place, the Prince intends on keeping them healthy and separated from this horrible disease.

That the Red Death is able to penetrate the formidable walls of this abbey is significant. It is symbolic of Poe's view that humans are ultimately defenseless in the face of the terrible diseases inflicted by nature. It does not matter how thick the walls are or how well "provisioned" the abbey is; humans cannot escape such diseases and, as such, the abbey comes to symbolize Poe's sense of hopelessness.

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The abbey is described as being "castellated", which suggests that it might represent both government and religion that people often turn to for safety. As both a castle and an abbey, it is supposed to be a place where "the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion." The doors are even welded shut from the inside so no one can escape. However, it also is bizarre in its layout, especially the rooms in which the ball is held. Unlike most castles or abbeys, one cannot see what lies ahead because "There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards. . ." and each room in this part of the castle has a different color. Most critics suggest that the rooms each represent a different stage of life. With that in mind, the entire castle probably represents the life that many people think is safe and secure. Unfortunately, the courtiers learn that even when they feel the most safe, death is very close. No matter how satisfied they were that they could not be touched by catastrophe, death itself sought them out and killed them.

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The Masque of the Red Death

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