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 does the ball stand for symbolically in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

What the ball stands for symbolically in "The Masque of the Red Death" is life. Prince Prospero and his guests have holed themselves up inside the castellated abbey to avoid the deadly plague raging outside. In a land ravaged by death, the masked ball represents an oasis of life.

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Prince Prospero’s guests know that if they remain outside the walls of his castellated abbey, then they are likely to wind up dead, as so many people in this benighted land have done. There’s a deadly plague raging outside, and it is no respecter of social status; it can, and will, cut down anyone who gets in its way, be it prince or pauper, nobleman or peasant.

The masked ball attended by Prospero and his guests, therefore, represents an affirmation of life in the midst of such widespread death and suffering. It is highly significant in this regard that the dances which take place during the masquerade each stop for the chiming of the ebony clock, which represents the time remaining until death finally strikes at midnight. It’s also significant that the guests avoid like the plague—appropriately enough—the last of the seven rooms, as it represents death.

Though the masked ball may represent life, it is never very far away from death. This is life lived in the face of death. In that sense, one could say that the masquerade also symbolizes the fundamental fragility of life, a life that can all too easily be taken away from us at any given moment.

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