What was a main theme in The Masque of the Red Death?

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amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

olgasandorova | Student

The main theme in the Masque of The Red Death is “No man or woman can escape death.” It is human nature, of course, to attempt to escape death, and many of us in the modern world resort to extreme measures to postpone entering the “seventh room” as long as possible.

Death, as the main theme, represents itself in Poe’s work in many ways. For example, the rooms of the palace, lined up in a series, allegorically represent the stages of life. Poe makes it a point to arrange the rooms running from east to west. This progression is symbolically significant because it represents the life cycle of a day: the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, with night symbolizing death.

Another example is the seventh room. Poe crafts the last, black room as the ominous endpoint, the room the guests fear just as they fear death. The clock that presides over that room also reminds the guests of death’s final judgment. The hourly ringing of the bells is a reminder of the passing of time, inexorable and ultimately personal.

I hope this helped.


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The Masque of the Red Death

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