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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Symbolism in "The Masque of the Red Death"

Summary:

In "The Masque of the Red Death," the symbolism is rich and multifaceted. The seven colored rooms represent the stages of life, while the ebony clock symbolizes the inevitability of death. Prince Prospero's attempt to avoid the Red Death by isolating himself in his abbey underscores the futility of trying to escape mortality.

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In "The Masque of the Red Death," what does blood symbolize?

Blood symbolizes death or, more precisely, mortality. The "redness and horror" of blood is the "avatar" of the disease--which leads to sudden bleeding from the pores and a quick death. Much of the story has to do with the juxtaposition of the revelers with the passage of time (represented by the chiming clock) and the approach, with passing time, of mortality, represented in the story by the masked figure. While the prince thinks he can avoid death by locking himself and his friends away from the outside world, what the story shows is that time and mortality are ever present. In the same way, the blood, which gives life as long as it is "hidden" inside our bodies, becomes the sign of death when it is "unmasked" and becomes visible (through bleeding). For all of Poe's emphasis on imagery in the story, the colors of the different rooms and so forth, there is a sense that ultimately the "artifice" of the prince (as "author" of the ball) or of Poe himself (the author of the story) will lead to blood and death.

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In "The Masque of the Red Death," what does blood symbolize?

You are right to focus on the importance of blood in this excellent short story. Let us remember that blood is a crucial element of catching this virulent disease, and marks the beginning of the end, as the first paragraph of this tale reminds us:

The "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal--the redness and horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow men.

Note the way in which blood is so closely related to the Read Death, being its "Avatar and its seal." Blood is something that marks the presence of this highly contagious disease, and also something that is a clear indicator that the end is nigh. Blood is therefore symbolic of both death, but also the panic and fear that such an awareness of the closeness of death creates.

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In "The Masque of the Red Death," what does blood symbolize?

Edgar Allan Poe was a 19th century American author and poet known primarily for his Gothic horror stories and poems as well as for his "invention" of the modern detective story (The Murders in the Rue Morgue). Among his numerous works of literature as the 1842 short story The Masque of the Red Death, the tale of a Middle Ages morally-corrupt royal, Prince Prospero, who hopes to isolate himself and his friends from the plague ravaging the countryside. Poe's "Red Death" is modeled after the real-life plague that swept across much of Europe in the 14th century killing tens of millions of people. The opening passage of Poe's story is clearly influenced by that bleak period in European history:

"THE 'Red Death' had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men."

Poe's fictitious malady the "Red Death" is the author's version of the "Black Death" that did, in fact, spread across Europe leaving millions to suffer horrible deaths.

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In "The Masque of the Red Death," what does blood symbolize?

Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Masque of the Red Death, published in 1845, is about a morally corrupt and highly extravagent European Prince Prospero, whose response to the spread of a deadly plague is to wall himself and his many friends and cohorts inside his castle in the misbegotten belief that they can cheat death.  The "red death," then, refers to that plague.  As millions succumb to the fatal disease that has spread across Europe, Prince Prospero ignores their pleas and entertains his many guests with a costume ball:

"The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. . . there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine.  All these and security were within.  Without was the 'Red Death'."

As described by Poe in the following passage, Prospero and his guests engage in all manner of debauchery while right outside the gates commoners die ghastly deaths:

"It was toward the end of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero  entertained his thousand friends at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence."

The Masque of the Red Death takes place during Medieval times, when the real-life spread across Europe of bubonic plague during the 14th Century killed millions of people.  Referred to as the "Black Death," that pandemic clearly inspired Poe's story of the "Red Death."  As the story progresses, a mysterious masked stranger appears within Prospero's castle.  This stranger is revealed towards the end as "Death," come to impose its will on the prince and his guests.

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In "The Masque of the Red Death," what does blood symbolize?

The medical disease smallpox was being called the Red Death as early as the turn of the 16th century (c. 1490). Smallpox is said to be "virulently infectious," with the virus causing the disease lingering on clothing, bedding, and breath throughout the course of disease. Corpses during past epidemics were dangerous to dispose of because the virus continued to thrive even after the host's death and could thus be transferred to new victims. Smallpox are red thus smallpox was dubbed Red Death.

Mentioned in Chinese and Indian writings as early as the 1100s BC, smallpox was recorded in China in 370 AD when an epidemic destroyed one-third of China's population over the course of three long diseased decades. There are earlier recorded instances of smallpox in the warm Mediterranean regions as early as 108 AD. It is now believed to have begun in 10,000 BC and to have spread out from Northeast Africa with traveling merchants. Being more virile in warmer climates (the opposite of the Black Death which worsened in winter), it was recorded in southern Europe circa 400-600 AD. It was reported throughout Europe by the 1200s--a slow spread of epidemic disfiguring disease over centuries.

Smallpox is a disease of cities and crowded living situations, like armies and ships. Edward Jenner discovered vaccinizing to stop the acquisition of smallpox from his observation of dairymaids with cowpox, first testing it in 1796. By the end of the 1800s, all America, Europe and England were under compulsory vaccination orders; no one was exempt except the few "conscientious objectors." The Red Death was smallpox.

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In "The Masque of the Red Death," what does blood symbolize?

The Red Death is a plague, sweeping the Italian country side with horrible effects.  In the introduction of Poe's short story, he describes the red death as having terrible symptoms including "sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution" (Poe).  The Red Death is a fictional representation of the Black Death plague that swept through the Middle Ages. 

As seen in "The Masque of the Red Death," many people in the middle ages attempted to escape the Black Death by outrunning it or secluding themselves away from it.  Even the pope was said to have sat for weeks between two burning fires to protect himself!  Prince Prospero locks himself and one thousand of his favorite subjects into an abbey.   

True to real life and much like the Black Death, the Red Death cannot be shut out.  When Prospero decides to liven things up by hosting a fancy costume ball, an unlooked for guest attends, one whose costume is "dabbled in blood -- and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror" (Poe).  

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In "The Masque of Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe, what does the colour red represent?

I'm guessing that your question refers to "The Masque of Read Death" by Edgar Allen Poe as you didn't state which story you were referring to, so I have edited your question to make it slightly clearer.

When considering this tale, you need to consider that this is an allegory - a narrative that is really a double story. One story - the main story of Propsero inviting his guests to avoid the pestilence and therefore death by living in his castle luxuriously until the disease passes. The other story lies under the surface and characters and events represent abstract ideas or states of being - Animal Farm is a superb example of allegory in novel form.

Red, then, in this short story, can be taken as a symbol of blood, death, and an echo of the "Read Death" - the disease that is rampaging through the land. It is perhaps key to focus on the fact that the 7 rooms end with the 7th room in black, with windowpanes that are scarlet: "a deep blood colour". We can see therefore that the 7 rooms can be viewed as the seven stages of life, with this last room representing death. It is also significant that the rooms start off in the East and progress to the West - mimicing the rising and setting of the sun, which supports this allegorical interpretation of the rooms and the colour red.

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What does the ball symbolize in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

Prince Prospero’s guests know that if they remain outside the walls of his castellated abbey, then they are likely to wind up dead, as so many people in this benighted land have done. There’s a deadly plague raging outside, and it is no respecter of social status; it can, and will, cut down anyone who gets in its way, be it prince or pauper, nobleman or peasant.

The masked ball attended by Prospero and his guests, therefore, represents an affirmation of life in the midst of such widespread death and suffering. It is highly significant in this regard that the dances which take place during the masquerade each stop for the chiming of the ebony clock, which represents the time remaining until death finally strikes at midnight. It’s also significant that the guests avoid like the plague—appropriately enough—the last of the seven rooms, as it represents death.

Though the masked ball may represent life, it is never very far away from death. This is life lived in the face of death. In that sense, one could say that the masquerade also symbolizes the fundamental fragility of life, a life that can all too easily be taken away from us at any given moment.

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