What happens after the mysterious figure is unmasked in "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe represents his definition of a short story.  Poe believed that everything in the story should be directed to achieve a single effect.  In this story, the effect is horrific death.

The story revolves around a leader of a country trying to escape the fate of his subjects by hiding in a monastery.  The main character Prince Prospero hides for several months and tires of his solitary life.  He decides to have a masquerade ball with the costumes to be grotesque. 

In his writing, Poe details his setting so that his reader can visualize where the story takes place. The setting in this story adds to the horrendous effect that the writer desired. 

The Prince decorates the monastery in a unique way: every room is decorated completely in a different color.  From east to west, the rooms symbolize the passing of a day.  From sunrise to sunset the rooms are these colors: blue, purple, green, orange, white, violet, and the last black.

The last room was particularly special.  The black room had red windows so that when the lights shone in the room everything and everyone looked like it was covered with blood.  No one stayed long in the room because it made a person feel peculiar.  

The room contained a huge ebony clock that chimed the hours.  When the hour came, everyone stopped what they were doing until the clock had stopped.  Then, they picked up what they were doing. 

When the clock struck twelve, a new presence was observed.  He was described as tall, skeletal, dressed in clothing of the dead. His mask looked like the face of a corpse, and he was sprinkled entirely in blood.

The Prince accosts the specter in the blue room and chases the phantom through all of the chambers until he arrives at the black room.  When he finally faces the ghostly image, the prince pulls his dagger out and approaches it.  

There was a sharp cry—and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which. Instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero… 

When the chiming stopped, the party goers gathered up their courage and ran into the black room and tried to grab the Red Death. They grabbed at him but there was nothing there. The costume fell to the floor. Suddenly, each of the people fell dead from the Red Death.  

The clock died and all of the lights went out. Death would not be denied even for a prince and his friends.

Prince Prospero died trying to conceal himself from the plague that had killed most of his subjects.  He had no business having a party when people were dying in his realm. This was a mockery to the dreadful disease. The eerie figure was Death in disguise as the horrid plague that came to claim all of the people who had been ensconced in the monastery. 

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The Masque of the Red Death

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