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

The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

Start Free Trial

In "The Masque of the Red Death," what do the seven rooms in the abbey symbolize?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The rooms in Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" symbolize the progress of life from birth to death. The first evidence of this lies in the alignment of the rooms themselves. Poe explicitly states that they move from east to west, referencing the movement of the sun from dawn to dusk. This serves as an extended metaphor for human life. The first room, blue, lies at the abbey's easternmost wall. We can take it to symbolize birth, the start of life, the dawn. Meanwhile, the final room, at the west, is black. It symbolizes death, the end of life, the dusk. The other rooms represent bright, happy colors up until the next to last room, violet. This color seems to hint at the setting of the sun.

It also worth noting that a clock rests at the western wall. Everyone in the abbey already fears this room, and when the clock chimes the hour, "there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company." The clock represents the inevitability of death, the very thing Prospero and his retinue are trying to avoid. Further, the windows in this final room are "blood-tinted panes," and the light gives everyone who enters the chamber the impression of having a blood-streaked face. The title of this story alone reveals how closely Poe associates the color red with death.

Finally, when the Red Death does come, it begins in the blue room, and Prospero and the others pursue it through all the chambers until they reach the black one. Even in life, even in birth, the specter of death is present. The rooms in the abbey represent the passage of life, from birth to death, and the inescapable fear of that eventuality that no living being can escape. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Masque of the Red Death," what does the abbey's seventh (black/red) chamber represent in an allegorical reading of the story?

As was mentioned in the previous post, the seventh room in Prince Prospero's abbey represents death and decay. The seven color-coded rooms in Prince Prospero's abbey symbolize the progression of life. The first room is colored blue and represents birth. The last three rooms are decorated in white, violet, and black/scarlet. Chronically, these rooms symbolize old age (white), impending death (violet), and death itself (black/scarlet). The seventh room is located to the far west side of the abbey and is described as being an ominous black chamber that the guests avoid during the masquerade. The seventh room also has blood-tinted window panes which add to the ghastly, eerie atmosphere inside the chamber. The color black is associated with death, and scarlet represents the tainted blood that is associated with the Red Death. There is also a tall, ebony clock located in the room with a swinging pendulum, which counts down to the end of the day. The clock symbolically represents the inevitability of death as it steadily approaches midnight. In addition, the seventh room is the chamber that Prince Prospero chases the Red Death into and is eventually killed inside along with the other guests. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In "The Masque of the Red Death," what does the abbey's seventh (black/red) chamber represent in an allegorical reading of the story?

It is key to realise that each of the seven chambers and the way that they are positioned running from east to west, to correspond with the rising and setting of the sun, allegorically suggests the different stages of man's life as he is born and starts his inexorable trek towards death. Let us consider how the final seventh chamber is described so we can establish its allegorical significance:

The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the colour of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet--a deep blood colour.

Also important to consider when trying to work out the allegorical significance of this room is what happens here. Let us remember that the guest disguised as the Red Death walks through all of teh chambers before finally confronting the enraged Prince Prospero in this seventh chamber, where the arrival of the Red Death is discovered and greeted with intense dismay. The combination of the black of the trappings of this room and the red of the windows strongly points us towards this seventh room allegorically representing death, and death at the hands of the Red Death.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on