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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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What is the "Red Death"? How does it affect its victims?

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The Red Death is a terrible plague, a highly contagious disease that leaves a trail of death and suffering in its wake.

Fourteenth-century Europe was devastated by a similar disease called the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death. It's estimated that something like sixty percent of Europe's population was wiped out by the plague, spread by rats' fleas.

If anything, the Red Death's even worse. It's caused massive devastation in Prince Prospero's dominions, leaving them severely depopulated. It's a truly horrible disease that suddenly attacks its victims, leading to sharp pains, sudden dizziness, and bleeding from every pore. (That's why it's called the "Red" Death). And to make matters worse, the plague leaves such big ugly blood stains all over your face and body that it frightens people away from helping you. Not that there's much they can do, of course, as the Red Death's completely incurable.

But Prince Prospero really couldn't care less. He doesn't give a hoot about the welfare of his people. He sees the Red Death as a great opportunity to have a good time, to throw a massive party for himself and his rich aristocratic friends inside the fortified walls of his castellated abbey. Here they'll be safe from the murderous pestilence raging outside. Or so they think.

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Describe what the disease the "Red Death" does to its victims.

At the beginning of the story, Poe explains that the disease known as the "Red Death" has "long devastated the country" and that no disease has ever been "so fatal, or so hideous." He then describes the consequences of the disease for its victims. These consequences include "sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores." He also says that the disease results in "scarlet stains " upon the bodies and faces of its victims. It is because of these "scarlet stains" that the disease is named the "Red Death." Poe further explains that the aforementioned consequences of the disease endure for "half an hour."

Toward the end of the story, the disease becomes manifest in the form of a tall, mysterious, masked and robed figure. Upon the mask of the figure there are red splotches, resembling those "scarlet stains" which are characteristic of the disease. The guests in the abbey recoil in fear from this mysterious figure, and Prospero, the main character in the story, chases the figure through every room in the abbey. When he finally confronts the figure, Prospero drops dead. The final line of the story ("And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all") implies that all of Prospero's guests also then succumb to the disease.

Thus, from the story's conclusion, we can infer that as well as the "scarlet stains," the "dizziness," and the "bleeding at the pores" described at the beginning of the story, the disease also results in fear and, ultimately, death.

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