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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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List examples of metaphors and similes in "The Masque of the Red Death".

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In "The Masque of the Red Death," various metaphors and similes are employed. Metaphors include the comparison of the ebony clock to something living, the dancing figures to dreams, and the joy and abandon of the partygoers to life's heart. The castle serves as an overarching metaphor for futile human attempts to shut out death. The story also uses a simile from the Bible, likening death to a thief in the night.

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A metaphor is a comparison of two unalike things where one thing is said to be the other; a simile is a comparison which is of somewhat lesser strength because it depends upon the use of the words like or as.

The ebony clock in the seventh and final room, all hung with black, is compared, via metaphor, to something living. The narrator says that, each hour, "there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical." Obviously, a clock does not actually have lungs; neither can it be considered to be "brazen," as this adjective implies purposefulness. The cabinet in which the chimes hang is compared to lungs.

Poe employs another metaphor when the narrator describes the dancing figures that stalk "To and fro in the seven chambers" as "a multitude of dreams." They are living people dressed so fancifully and fantastically that they seem like something out of a dream. They would certainly add to the surrealism of the decor itself and affect the atmosphere of the party. The narrator later says that, after the clock finishes its chiming, "the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever."
Yet another metaphor is created when the narrator says that within in the first six rooms the "heart of life" beats "feverishly." He seems to compare the joy and abandon, the complete disregard for death most of us have when we are living life and enjoying ourselves, to life's "heart." He goes on to describe the effect on the company of the appearance of the hooded figure meant to represent the Red Death: "There are chords in the heart of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion."
Thus, even the most brazen among them finds this costume to be inappropriate, given what's going on outside the castle. There are no literal "chords" in the heart, and so we might understand the narrator to be comparing emotional subjects or ideas or memories to especially poignant musical chords via metaphor.
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Poe's story uses metaphors as it describes the party in the Duke's fantastic, twisting castle with different colored rooms. For example, the abstract word "conceptions" is likened to an image that we can see when Poe writes that the Duke's "conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre."

Poe also uses personification, a specific form of metaphor in which a non-human object is likened to a human being. In this story, the dreams of the revelers at the Duke's castle are described as if they are humans dancing then stopping in the midst of their dance. We learn that the dreams "writhe." When they hear the ebony clock chime "the dreams are stiff frozen as they stand."

The high walled castle with iron gates bolted shut becomes an overarching metaphor for the futile human attempt to shut out death. In this story, the people try literally to lock out death:

This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts.

The story's simile of death coming "like a thief in the night" comes directly from the Bible's New Testament, where it appears several times, such as in the books of Matthew and Revelation. The instance most appropriate to the story is the following:

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them. (Thessalonians 5:2-4)

Sudden destruction does come upon the revelers. Biblically literate audiences of the time might have understood this as a judgment on the revelers for their hubris, or pride, in thinking they could lock out death. 

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A simile is a comparison that uses like or as, whereas a metaphor is a comparison that does not use like or as. Furthermore, according to, a metaphor often represents or symbolizes something else, especially something abstract.

Here is an example of a simile that exists in "The Masque of Red Death."

When describing death, "[The Red Death] had come like a thief in the night" (6). This is a comparison that uses the word 'like' to compare death to a thief, and the simile implies that death will steal life from everyone. 

Here are some examples of metaphors that exist in "The Masque of Red Death."

"But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life" (4). This metaphor could suggest the desire of the people to hold onto their lives, and could also suggest that those still living were desperately clinging to the last hours of their lives.

"Time that flies" (2) is a metaphor that is used to talk about the ebony clock. This metaphor could represent the inevitability of death since each passing hour serves as a reminder to the masqueraders of their impending death.

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While imagery is most prevalent in “The Masque of the Red Death,” similes and metaphors are also used.

One example of a simile is found on page 6 of the enotes etext, where Death’s mask is described as “corpse-like” and horrifying.  When Death’s presence is acknowledged, they note that “he had come like a thief in the night” (6).

An example of a metaphor is when the party room is described as “a strong and lofty wall girdled it in” (4).  The walls are compared to a girdle, which is an interesting metaphor because girdles are used by vain people to make themselves look better, and the prince is definitely vain.

Another example of a metaphor is, “but these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life” (5).  This metaphor also matches the color imagery, and the red and blood imagery used throughout the story.

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