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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Student Question

How do the characters' desperate measures in "The Masque of the Red Death" reflect real-world responses to a deadly threat?

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Prince Prospero, for example, left his castle and court to retire to "the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys" with one thousand of his most "hale and light-hearted friends" in order to escape the Red Death. This abbey is surrounded by a "strong and lofty wall" with iron gates. Once everyone had entered the abbey, the prince's friends used "furnaces and massy hammers" to weld the iron gates closed so that no one would be able to either get in or get out of the abbey's precincts. The employ this self-imposed isolation in order to secure themselves against the disease that has depleted the kingdom by half, though it is a luxurious isolation.

Certainly, we typically use isolation—called quarantine—as a way of keeping those who are infected with some terrible disease from spreading their infection to the rest of the healthy population; although, we tend to isolate the sick rather than the healthy since there are typically so many fewer sick people than there are healthy. There are also certain kinds of products and goods that we are not allowed to carry out of some countries and into others for fear that they could harbor some germs or diseases that could harm people who are not used to them. Some countries even assess the health of individuals arriving via customs to make sure that they are well and do not bring diseases in with them.

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