How can "The Masque of the Red Death" be read as a political statement?
Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Masque of the Red Death" can be read as a political statement. The aristocrats prior to the French Revolution tried to cloister themselves in utopian settings such as Versailles, where all was peace and plenty, harmony and happiness. Unfortunately for the nobles, the hungry masses broke in, and the Napoleonic era changed Western thinking forever. The common people never felt the same about the aristocracy again, and the aristocracy never felt so confident and secure. God was no longer on their side.
In Poe's world there is no security. Everything changes. Nothing is known for sure. Poe was a revolutionary in spirit. He was actually a contemporary of Napoleon briefly. Napoleon died at Saint Helena in 1821, and Poe was born in 1809. So Poe would have been twelve years old when Napoleon died. They were that close together in time, although it seems as if Poe was living in an entirely different era.
In "The Masque of the Red Death" there are many commoners dying outside the walls, but the focus is on what is happening to the aristocrats who are sequestered inside, trying to pretend that their lives are going on as usual. Characteristically, they care nothing about the lower classes, and they divert themselves with their traditional frivolous pleasures and consumption. Poe had once been an insider, but now he was an outsider. He shows not a grain of pity for the aristocratic ladies and gentlemen being murdered by Death. It seems likely that Poe would have had no pity for those ladies and gentlemen who suffered from the French Revolution and its Napoleonic aftermath.