What is a main theme of "The Masque of the Red Death"?

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One major theme of the text is that no one can escape death. Prince Prospero believes that he, with all of his wealth and resources, can elude death and live happily while his kingdom is decimated by disease. He calls a "thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retires to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys." Surrounded by its "strong and lofty wall" and its "gates of iron," this abbey sounds like a veritable fortress, indeed. All of the gates are welded shut so that nothing, the courtiers and the prince believe, can get in or out.

Their pride is tremendous: they believe that their distance from the city, their fortress, their furnaces and hammers, and their youth and health will actually succeed in keeping death at bay. "With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure." Caring only for themselves and nothing for the rest of the world, which is full of people who cannot simply escape to some far-away fortress, the courtiers proceed to party. Of course, despite their belief that "security [was] within" the abbey's walls, they cannot escape death, which shows that we cannot elude death regardless of our circumstances.

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The main theme of this amazing short story by Poe is Death.  He comes in quietly, like a thief, disguised appropriately for this masquerade ball.  One by one, the guests drop dead and the rest retreat to other rooms.  The purpose of the party was to keep all the wealthy friends far away from the plague that is sweeping through the city outside.  Prospero, like his wealthy friends, thinks that because he is wealthy and "above" the poor who are dying ouside his walls, that he is above dying.  The truth is, no one can escape Death, no matter how rich, how beautiful, how entitled one is. 

Another theme is time.  Throughout the story, the clock keeps ticking loudly, and Prospero and other guests keep noticing the time.  It is almost as though they expect an expiration date on the contagion.  There is, however, an expiration date on the living. Everyone dies eventually.  It is interesting to note, that the different rooms in Prospero's house correspond with the different stages in one's life.  Take a look at the colors of each room...all the way to the last one, which is black, signifying Death itself.

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