illustration of a clockface wearing a mask and ticking closer to midnight

The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Why do the revelers cease dancing and listen to the chiming of the clock, and who does the clock seem to affect more?

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The foreboding ebony clock in the seventh room of the imperial suite symbolically represents mortality and death in Poe's classic short story "The Masque of the Red Death." During Prince Prospero's elaborate, bizarre masquerade, the ebony clock strikes a low, peculiar sound every hour, which has a unique effect on the revelers and the orchestra entertaining the party. With every chime, the revelers hearken to the sound and become filled with anxiety, fear, and apprehension. Poe writes that the giddiest revelers turn pale, and the older guests begin to perspire and meditate as they listen to the ominous chimes. The clock striking every hour forces the revelers to contemplate their own mortality and the transient nature of life. It is a reminder that time will continue to pass, ushering them to their imminent deaths. The primary reason the guests barricade themselves in Prospero's abbey is to outwit death and survive the horrific pestilence that is devastating the countryside. Therefore, the sound of each hour passing is a constant reminder that they will not outlast or survive the Red Death.

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