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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Most critics and readers can only assume why an author constructs a specific text. Only those texts in which an author details exactly why the text was written offers any real explanation. Outside of that, people can only assume why the text was written based upon their own personal interpretations...

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and justifications.

As for Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Masque of the Red Death, readers who possess knowledge of Poe's dark and depressing past can imagine the reasoning behind his construction of the text. Poe lost three women, who were very important to him, to tuberculosis. His ability to create dark and horror filled texts, backed with his personal knowledge of the disease, could easily lead one to decide that Masque was an attempt to describe the horrible affects which tuberculous had upon its "host."

Given that tuberculosis was one of the main killers of the 18th and 19th century, Poe was both publicly and personally surrounded by it.

Outside of that, Poe could have chosen to write the story simply based upon the fear people had about contracting the disease and the alienation and isolation which was found when people were found to have tuberculosis.

In the end, Poe was a master storyteller. His tales of horror and murder were renowned. The fact that he choose to construct a tale about a disease running rampant in the Western World simply could have been to simply scare or to educate. In reality, no one will really ever know.

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What is Edgar Allan Poe's purpose in writing "The Masque of the Red Death," and how does he use dark Romantic elements to achieve this purpose?

Edgar Allan Poe suggests that all writing must be crafted to achieve a desired effect and that writers should work backward from the ending in order that this goal should be achieved. Taking this method in mind, it would be natural to surmise that, in "The Masque of the Red Death," the critical scene on which the entire story hinges can be found at the story's ending, with the arrival of the Red Death as seen in the apparition.

Thus the story's key theme would seem to be death and how people grapple with an awareness of their own mortality (this is a key theme in much of Poe's work) or, perhaps more precisely in this case, how they desperately attempt to ignore it. In his description of the celebrations (in which the nobility has essentially barricaded themselves away from the outside world), there is a very powerful dreamlike quality to the story, one that is heightened by its uncertain setting. While there is a certain old-world feel to the story, we don't know precisely in what country or what decade or century the story is actually set. Even so, any illusions of security are dashed with the appearance of the specter at the story's end.

With that in mind, probably the most powerful image of dark Romanticism can be found with the apparition representing death. You might also want to look toward the symbolic imagery weaved throughout the story: for one example, the image of the clock.

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