What is the point of view in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

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clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The point of view in "The Masque of the Red Death" is one literary area that sparks much discussion.  It actually seems to shift from 3rd person to 1st person.  It starts out sounding very clearly like a 3rd person, uninvolved, all knowing, onlooker of events is telling a tale of folklore.  But then, the fourth paragraph makes this voice that of an actual narrator when he says:

But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held.

There are several interpretations for who the narrator of the story might be.  It is almost always a preliminary assumption that the author and the narrator are one and the same.  In this way, Poe himself is telling the story.  Another way to look at it is to consider that at the end of the story all of the characters die of the Red Death.  Some have interpreted this to mean that Red Death himself is the narrator.  Others look at this story from a more psychological standpoint (comparing it to many of Poe's other short stories) and interpret it as Prince Prospero's dream.  This would reveal Prince Prospero as a madman, like so many of Poe's other characters.  Last, because the story is so very clearly an allegory (a morality tale), the final interpretation of the identity of the narrator is that it is some divine being (like God).

Whatever way you choose to interpret the point-of-view, make no mistake that the story clearly has a narrator.  I personally consider stories with narrators to be 1st person point-of-view.  In this case, it could be 1st person omniscient because the narrator seems to be all knowing.  This ambiguity is a classic move of Poe.  One of his strengths as a Gothic writer is creating a large part of his mystery and horror through an untrustworthy story teller.  He has accomplished this technique once again in "The Masque of the Red Death."

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While Poe's story is apparently told from third-person objective point of view with a narrator recounting an allegorical story, there are other interpretations of Poe's narrator in "The Masque of the Red Death."

One interpretation of Poe's narrator is that of Leonard Cassuto who contends the narration is that of the Red Death himself.  Since Prince Prospero dies about a paragraph and a half before the end of the story, this interpretation certainly seems plausible.  Added to this, the last line appears to express a rather victorious view:

And the flames of the tripods expired.  And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.

Another interpretation--somewhat Freudian, it seems--holds that the narrator is the subconscious of Prince Prospero himself.  Thus, the narrative is the workings of his mind as he wrestles with his own mortality and his death is not literal, but psychological.  Still, yet another interpretation holds that "The Masque of the Red Death" is a Biblical morality tale in which God sends a pestilence to punish the people for their evil and debauchery.  As such, the narrator, then, is a divine being.

Perhaps, the ambiguity of who is the narrator of his macabre story make exist because Poe wishes to express what Ugo Betti has written:

Every tiny part of us cries out against the idea of dying, and hopes to live forever.


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The Masque of the Red Death

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