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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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What is the Red Death in the story, and how did it get its name?

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In the 14th century, Europe was ravaged by a deadly plague which came to be known as the Black Death. This disease spread rapidly across the continent, wiping out somewhere in the region of sixty percent of the entire population, a truly staggering amount. If anything, the Red Death in Poe's story is even more deadly. It's devastated the kingdom, leaving misery, suffering, and painful death in its inexorable wake.

Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the madness and the horror of blood.

The red of the Red Death is the red of blood. If you're unlucky enough to be stricken with this foul pestilence, then you can expect to bleed profusely from every pore. Once the plague grabs you and holds you in its vice-like grip, then your entire body will be covered in hideous patches of blood. Worse still, the blood will cover your whole face, ensuring that you'll receive no help or sympathy from anyone, as they'll be too horrified to intervene.

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The Red Death is a terrible, deadly disease that has devastated the country ruled by Prince Prospero. In fact, the narrator tells us, no disease has ever been as deadly or awful as this one. It is called the Red Death because the victims of this disease begin to bleed from all their pores, in addition to the dizziness and sharp pains they experience. The diseased can easily be identified by the red stains all over their bodies, especially on their faces. These individuals, once spotted, immediately become shut out from the aid and sympathy of all their fellows and even their friends because the disease is so contagious. Further, the disease is so deadly and moves so quickly that the whole progression from contraction to the victim's death takes only thirty minutes.

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