What effect does the fear of death have on Poe's characters in “The Premature Burial” and “The Masque of the Red Death?"

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It's an interesting question, because I think, thematically speaking, both "The Masque of the Red Death" and "The Premature Burial" are focused on concerns more complicated and nuanced than the fear of death. The first of these short stories, in some respects, concerns attempted defiance of plague and illness and the ultimate futility of that attempt. It is also a story about hedonism and hubris, by which the Prince and his guests isolate themselves within his palace, trying to escape from both the disease and the psychological effects of the disease. They stave off their fear with overindulgent celebrations, only for the illusion to come crashing down, with the disease triumphant in the end. Fear of death is definitely present, but ultimately, I think it is fear of disease—one which is characterized in a particularly gruesome manner—and of the inability to oppose its spread that lies at the heart of the story.

"The Premature Burial" seems to be concerned not so much with death itself but with the helplessness of being buried alive. In the end, the two tend to amount to much the same thing, but those details matter, because the real horror here lies not so much in the ultimate resolution of death but in those last terrible moments where the person is still alive. Again, it is a particular manner of death which lies at the heart of the story.

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The fear of death has a profound impact on the characters in "The Premature Burial" and "The Masque of the Red Death." In both works, death occupies central importance in the characterizations.  In "The Premature Burial," death in the form of being buried alive, occupies the basic thoughts of the narrator:  "To be buried while alive is, beyond question, the most terrific of these extremes which has ever fAllan to the lot of mere mortality."  Death, in the form of being buried alive, is considered to be the embodiment of human suffering.  It is this condition that haunts the narrator, eventually causing him to believe that he has been buried alive.  In "The Masque of Red Death," death influences the characters in the same way.  Death is something that must be kept outside of the walls, locked away from its reach.  In this very act of repelling, the reality is that death occupies central importance, something that Poe communicates in the text:  

But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince's own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. ...The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the 'Red Death."

Prospero's and his guest's attitudes highlight their view of death.  It is something that is to be kept "without."  It is a force that is so imposing on the individual that they seek to repress its reality in the hopes that by wishing it away, death actually dissipates.  In both works, the characters' primary motivations and reasons for being are strongly shaped by death.  

Poe displays death as an inescapable force.  It is a reality that casts a looming shadow on human beings.  While human beings have different reactions to it, fear in one setting and rejection in another, Poe displays how death is an awe- inspiring force, a condition that overcomes mortal conditions.  Wealth and preoccupation are no match for the condition of death.  In both works, death and its fear constructs how individuals live their lives and what they do with it.

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