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The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

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What are the symptoms of the Red Death in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

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As was mentioned in the previous post, the Red Death is a fatal pestilence that has decimated half of the population in Poe's short story. Individuals who contract the Red Death suffer sharp pains and begin to experience dizziness before blood starts to leak through their pores profusely. The victim's...

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entire body, including their face, turns red with blood before they begin to seize. Once a person contracts the disease, the symptoms will last for a half an hour before they suddenly die. Prince Prospero and his wealthy, upper-class friends lock themselves inside of his abbey to avoid the contagion. Inside of Prince Prospero's abbey, the people revel while the rest of the countryside is experiencing the horrors of the plague. At the end of the story, Prince Prospero and his friends cannot cheat death and die from the plague inside the abbey. 

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The Red Death is a plague, a pestilence that is quickly fatal, and its symptoms "so hideous." There are severe pains, stunning dizziness, and profuse bleeding through the pores, and then a brutal death. Symptomatic of this plague are redness and "the horror of blood." These scarlet stains cover the body and so frighten and repulse people that they flee the victims. Most devastating is the fact that the time from the appearance of the scarlet stains until death is only a matter of thirty minutes.  

After this plague has decimated the population of the kingdom of Prince Prospero, he summons his knights and friends and members of his court and devises a plan to protect them from the Red Death: He takes them to his "castellated abbey" where there are lofty walls with gates of iron that surround this fortress. There the prince hopes that they "might bid defiance to the contagion." The guests engage in a masquerade; however, the Red Death itself enters later as a masked interloper.

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What are the symptoms of the Red Death in "The Masque of the Red Death" by Edgar Allan Poe?

The symptoms of this terrible disease include "sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores," and finally death. The narrator tells us in the first paragraph that "No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous." If a person were to bleed -- and bleed quite a bit -- from every pore on their body, it would most likely look as though that person were simply covered, head to foot, in blood: a truly gruesome and horrifying picture. This is why the narrator tells us that "Blood was [the disease's] Avatar and its seal -- the redness and the horror of blood." It was known as the Red Death because red is the color of the blood which would leak from all over one's body. Further, there is essentially no chance of survival, as it was a terribly fatal disease, and "the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour." In other words, within thirty minutes of the onset of sharp pains and dizzy spells, the disease's victim would be dead.

Many scholars have linked the Red Death to tuberculosis, a viral infection of the lungs that almost always lead to death in Poe's lifetime, and inevitably led to the diseased person to cough up copious amounts of blood before they died. This blood provides the link between the Red Death and tuberculosis. Poe was especially affected by this disease in his life because it claimed, first, his mother when he was only three years old. He actually watched her die in the hospital, coughing up gouts of blood (a really terrible, terrible thing for anyone to watch, let alone a very small and frightened child). Then tuberculosis claimed the life of Mrs. Allan, the much-beloved woman who took him in after his mother's death. It even claimed the life of his young wife. Therefore, Poe had a particular axe to grind with this disease and would probably very much see it as a ruiner of lives.

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What are the symptoms of the red death in "The Masque of the Red Death"?

The Red Death, a plague, was characterized by blood (which is where the "Red" part of the name came from). People who were infected with this disease died in half an hour. In the first paragraph of The Masque of the Red Death, Poe gives a list of all of the symptoms associated with the disease. The unfortunate person who was infected suffered from severe pain and dizziness. The final symptom was blood seeping from all of the pores on the victim's body; this bleeding stained the victim's skin, leaving red splotches behind (Poe says "especially upon the face of the victim"), which stopped them from being able to hide that they were infected. In the end, it was always fatal. All in all, it was a very gruesome disease (thank goodness it was fictional!).

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