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

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The music in Edgar Allen Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" demonstrates  the vivacity of life.  Although alluring, the music will stop and a silence will fall and death will prevail. 

In "the Masque of Red Death," the characters are vague.  Prospero, a prince trying to hide from the plague which has swept through his lands, is used by Poe to represent those who do not accept that death comes to everyone. The other characters are masqueraders attending a ball given by Prospero.  Death represented as a grotesquely costumed character presents himself at the party.

The setting of the story is the prince's castle which has been decorated for the party,  using seven rooms each decorated in a different color.  The final room primarily black is more singular because of its blood red windows. Obviously, here is where the climax of the story will arise.

The party is wild with revelry, frolic, and dancing.  At each hour of the party, time stops.  A large black clock begins its hourly chiming and even the musicians stop their playing. The cheer of the masqueraders is regular and pervasive; however, the music is forcefully interrupted by the clock from the room of death.

...the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion.

At midnight, which is indicative of the end of the day and the end of life, a rumor runs through the crowd that an oddly costumed stranger has been seen.  The stranger goes through each room running close to the revelers.  Prospero hears the rumor and faces the stranger.  Realizing that this is no ordinary man, Prospero succumbs to prospect of death.

Symbolically, the music speaks to the attempt to hide from death. When the music stops, time freezes; yet the inevitability of death awaits the ceasing of the clock's chimes. Death cannot be avoided even if one tries to hide from it. When time begins again, the music swells and allows the party to continue. But at the midnight hour,  the music plays no more: "Death has dominion over all."

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