What mood does Poe evoke in "The Masque Of The Red Death"?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" is characterized by a tone of foreboding. Though the story takes place at a party, and the crowd is mostly festive, there is an ominous undertone that is sometimes even felt by the characters in the story. Of course, by the end of the story, all of the revelers will be dead from the plague. 

The story begins with a description of the "red death" and the physical horrors it wreaks on the human body. For example, "Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and horror of blood." After feeling pain and dizziness, the infected person would then experience "profuse bleeding at the pores." The disease would leave red marks on the victim, who would be sick for only about thirty minutes before succumbing to the red death. In this opening paragraph, Poe has already set the stage for where the story will end; thus, the story always has this specter of death hanging over it. 

The next paragraph begins with the word "But," indicating a contrast, as Prince Prospero secludes himself within his palace and throws a giant party wherein his guests will be locked and secure from the red death. The party atmosphere becomes ironic when combined with the foreboding feeling that death is approaching and cannot be avoided.

The description of Prospero's palace also adds to the ominous mood. The narrator describes a series of rooms, ending with "the seventh," which is "closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries." The window panes are "scarlet—a deep blood color," and the light created by a candelabra outside the chamber creates an effect that is "ghastly in the extreme." Inside this chamber is a huge black clock that, on each hour, sounds a very strange clang that disturbs the revelers. While hearing this clock, "the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation." Once the sounds have ceased, the revelers feel silly and say they will not be so bothered by the clock next time, but each time, they feel the same foreboding and "tremulousness." Poe devotes two long paragraphs to the descriptions of the chambers and the clock, which contributes greatly to the ominous mood of the story.

When the clock strikes twelve later in the story, it is revealed that a "masked figure" has emerged who was not there before. This figure is what will cause the spread of the red death and the demise of all those inside the palace. The sense of foreboding just below the surface has now finally erupted into explicit terror and fear. 

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The mood, which is a mixture of revelry and terror, is the whole purpose of this particular story, which differs from many of Poe's other stories in relying so heavily on description with little action or plot development. Poe seems to be describing human life. He was preoccupied with thoughts of death, and he seems to be showing mataphorically how people know that life is futile and death is inescapable but humans will still continue to seize whatever pleasure they can and continue to behave as if they are immortal. The mood of "The Masque of the Red Death" is strikingly similar to that evoked by Poe's poem "The Conqueror Worm," which is likewise a reflection on human mortality and the inevitability of death. The mood of both these works is unrelentingly depressing and even horrifying. What is obviously from both works is any hint of the kind of hope that has been offered by religions. A somewhat similar mood is evoked by Poe's famous poem "The Raven."

user3778901 | Student

"the figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask was made to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse. And yet all this might have been endured by the mad reveler. But the mummer has gone so far as to assume the type of the red death. His virtue was dabbed in blood-and his broad brow was be sprinkled with the scarlet horror. When the eyes of prince prospero fell upon the spectral image, his brow reddened with rage." Explain how this scene conveys the mood of the story? Use text evidence to support your answer .

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The Masque of the Red Death

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