What is the central idea shared by "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Masque of the Red Death"?  What literary devices does Edgar Allan Poe use to develop the controlling idea throughout each text?

Expert Answers
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The central idea shared by these two stories is that it is impossible to escape death.  In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator develops an aversion to the old man's "vulture eye," a metaphor.  The vulture is associated with death, as is old age (which has caused what are likely cataracts in the old man's eye), and it begins to become apparent that the narrator is so anxious to rid himself of the eye, a reminder of his own mortality, that he kills the old man.  However, the narrator himself is unaware of what is really bothering him; he thinks it's just about the eye, without realizing what the eye symbolizes.  Thus, Poe uses dramatic irony -- when the audience knows more than the character -- to build tension and suspense in the story, leading up to the narrator's murder of the old man and his eventual confession, a confession necessitated by his own anxious heartbeat rather than the dead old man's, as he believes.

In "The Masque of the Red Death," Prince Prospero attempts to escape the disease which has killed half the population of his kingdom, believing that he can go far enough away and install enough protections to render himself invulnerable to death.  He is wrong.  Poe uses verbal irony, calling the prince "dauntless and sagacious" when the prince is neither brave nor discerning.  If he were brave, he would stay and try to help his people.  If he were discerning, he would understand that he cannot escape death, no matter how wealthy he is.  Through the use of verbal irony, Poe calls attention to the prince's incredible arrogance and lack of concern for others.  Also of note is Poe's mocking tone, seen when the narrator says, "The external world could take care of itself.  In the meantime it was folly to grieve or to think."  Prince Prospero's awful selfishness and pride prevents him from seeing that he is as vulnerable to death as anyone else.