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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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What is the central conflict in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

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The central conflict in "The Masque of the Red Death" is man vs. nature. Prince Prospero believes that he and his friends can escape the natural process of dying, but they face the Red Death directly when death shows up at their masquerade ball.

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The central conflict in "Masque of the Red Death" is man vs. nature. Prince Prospero, who is "happy and dauntless and sagacious," tries to escape the natural process of death by sequestering a thousand friends to his castle and hiding from the contagion which sweeps through the kingdom. This death is a particularly gruesome one, causing sharp pains and a profuse bleeding from the pores of the body and ending the life of its victim within a half hour. Prince Prospero seems to believe that he can spare himself from this Red Death (capitalized in the story to personify its ability to seek out its victims) because he and his friends are rich and beautiful. This pride is a character flaw.

After five or six months of hiding from the Red Death, Prince Prospero decides to throw a masquerade for his thousand friends. The party is arranged through a series of rooms, each featuring a lively décor—except the final room. In this last room, the windows are blood red, and black velvet tapestries hang on the walls. These are the colors of death and are particularly reminiscent of the Red Death which the Prince and his friends are trying to escape. During the party, Prince Prospero encounters a guest who has dared to portray the visual image of the Red Death through his costume, and this enrages the Prince. He demands that the guest be unmasked so that they will know whom they need to hang from the battlements at sunrise.

The party goers are led into the black and bloodred room by this figure, and they are shocked when they unmask him and find that the costume is "untenanted by any tangible form." The conflict ends as Prince Prospero and his friends drop dead, victims of the Red Death which they believed they could escape. In the end, money and beauty could not save them, and "the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all."

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On a literal level, the central conflict of Poe's classic short story "The Masque of the Red Death" is considered a man versus nature conflict, where Prince Prospero and his nobles attempt to survive the deadly contagion that is rapidly spreading throughout the countryside. The "Red Death" is an extremely deadly pestilence that has devastated Prince Prospero's nation and left thousands dead in its wake. In order to avoid the plague, Prince Prospero secludes himself inside his magnificent abbey with a thousand knights and dames from his kingdom. The aristocrats remain safe from the deadly pestilence for several months until the literal personification of the Red Death enters the abbey and ends up killing everyone inside, including Prince Prospero. Another central conflict in the short story is man versus self. Prince Prospero struggles to accept his own mortality and fears death. He attempts to create and live in his own artistic, self-contained world in order escape the reality of death. However, the prince discovers that no one can escape death at the end of the story when he meets his fate.

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The central conflict in "The Masque of the Red Death" is between the nobles of the country, especially Prince Prospero, and the "red death," a disease very much like the "black death" or plague that actually devastated late medieval Europe. 

Prince Prospero is wealthy and powerful and tries to escape the plague by quarantining himself and his nobles in a vast abbey. This was something some of the nobles did during the black death, but it is not the act of a just or benevolent ruler; as a ruler, one should not abandon one's subjects to death while ensuring one's own personal safety.

Despite the precautions to quarantine himself and his nobles so that they cannot be affected by the plague, Prospero is followed into the abbey by the plague. Poe states: 

And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers . . .

This conflict and its phrasing is based on a biblical passage:

The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, ... But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. (1 Thessalonians 5:2)

This parallel suggests that death will always win the conflict, and that no matter how safe we are externally, we are by nature mortal. However, Christians believe that death for the saved is the beginning of eternal life, and thus within a medieval Christian context (the setting of the story), by his own selfishness in trying to avoid physical death, Prospero not only failed to avoid the plague but also sacrificed his chance at Heaven.

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What is the internal and external conflict in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

The main external conflict is clearly between Prince Prospero (and his guests) and the deadly plague—the Red Death of the title—raging outside. The Red Death has already caused appalling devastation, claiming the lives of many victims. The last thing that the prince and his guests want is to be the latest additions to that long and growing list. So they shut themselves up inside Prospero's castellated abbey walls, engaging in riotous partying to take their minds off the terrifying plague that stalks the land.

Prospero's internal conflict is with his own sense of mortality. The appearance of the mysterious scarlet-clad spectral figure appears to have wrecked his meticulous plan to keep the Red Death well away from his imposing stately home. Locking himself away deep inside the walls of the abbey was not just a way to keep out the plague; it was also designed to postpone Prospero's inevitable confrontation with his own mortality. Like most of us, Prospero doesn't want to think about death, even though he knows it's inevitable. But the appearance of the spectral figure forces him to confront the reality of his own mortality, with truly terrifying consequences.

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What is the internal and external conflict in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

"The Masque of the Red Death" is flamboyant and grotesque but it is basically a story of man against nature and is an external conflict. The Red Death is a force of nature attacking humanity. It is therefore the protagonist. Prince Propsero is the antagonist who is trying to escape and thwart the plague. This type of conflict, in which nature is the protagonist, could involve hurricanes, floods, forest fires, earthquakes, tidal waves, and many other life-threatening occurrences. There are other conflicts of man against nature in which man is the protagonist, such as a party of explorers attempting to reach the North Pole or mountain climbers attempting to "conquer" Mt. Everest. Jack London's famous short story "To Build a Fire" is one in which man is the protagonist.

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What is the conflict of the story "The Masque of the Red Death"?

The conflict of this story is one of character vs. Nature.  Prince Prospero, and every one of the courtiers he brings with him to his sequestered abbey, fear death, though death is natural. They take such great pains to protect themselves from the disease afflicting their community, and they "bid defiance to contagion," seeming to believe that wealth and youth and beauty will keep them safe from it. It is an extremely proud position, but we see their fear in the fact that they will not enter the last of the prince's seven rooms, the room of black and "a deep blood color," and in their response to the ebony clock's chimes: "disconcert and tremulousness and meditation [...]" every hour. Ebony, or black, is symbolic of death, the clock is symbolic of mortality, and the blood color of the windows of the room in which the clock sits is symbolic of the particular death which they are attempting to escape. Ultimately, however, neither they nor we can avert death because it is natural. Death, the agent of Nature, triumphs.

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What is the conflict of the story "The Masque of the Red Death"?

Both the internal and external conflicts of story pit the individual against death. This is an internal conflict because the story depicts the protagonist, Prospero, as fearing death.  People naturally have a desire to live, so that they often must struggle with the inevitable fact that they must die. However, this fear of death also becomes an external conflict for Prospero because Poe personifies death, making it a Masked Figure that leads Prospero into the innermost chamber, faces him, so that he dies.  Note that Red Death is capitalized throughout the story, which indicates that it has the attributes of a person with intentions and motivations.  Enotes has an excellent discussion on this story as an allegory whereby each objects and characters symbolize ideas in such a way that the entire story can be read literally or figuratively, the latter reading providing the more significant meaning.

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What is the conflict of the story "The Masque of the Red Death"?

The main problem in the story is the plague (or red death) that is around. In order to protect against that plague, the Prince sequesters a thousand of his most loyal followers in his castle. The main conflict in the story is between those inside, and red death itself. They try to keep it out, and Red Death tries to work its way in.

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What is the conflict in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death"?

I would describe the conflict in "the masque of red death" as control vs. fate.

While Prospero was trying to take control of the situation by isolating himself in a castle with his friends, and took control of his subjects through lavish entertainment, and controlled every color and look in the castle, he could not control what fate had in store for him, no matter how much detail he put into consideration.

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