Interpretations of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" have ranged far and widely among literary commentators. However, due to Poe's strong hostility to allegory as a tale of the parable, some have contended that the story has no underlying message at all (Roppolo 134). Instead of falling into oblivion, Poe's writings have achieved and maintained the position of "classics" thanks to the weighty symbolism and allegories they contain. For Edward Davidson, "Poe was an allegorist in spite of himself" (181). The feelings were shared by Richard Wilbur. "Poe's stories are metaphorical not just in the broad patterns but also in the minute details," he said (104). Critics that use an allegorical lens to examine "The Masque of the Red Death" stress the story's symbolic underpinnings. While the Red Death Plague is the actual subject of this novel, it also serves as an allegory for man's reaction to the realisation of his immortality. Most assessments of the symbols woven within the narrative have been consistent. The cast of people, the seven chambers and their associated hues, and the ebony clock are all agreed upon to have deeper symbolic significance. These emblems support the allegory of the narrative and supply figurative language with a wide range of potential meanings.
At the very outset of "The Masque of the Red Death," when Poe introduced the antagonist, the Red Death, and the protagonist, Prince Prospero, he also introduced the story's earliest examples of symbolism. According to Poe, "the Red Death" had been wreaking havoc on the land for some time. In all of recorded history, there had never been a plague as deadly or as gruesome as this one. Its avatar and seal were the crimson, horrifying fluid known as blood. (662). Critics of Poe's work have speculated that he modelled the Red Death after tuberculosis, which claimed the lives of several of his loved ones. This interpretation gives the Red Death in his narrative an additional layer of significance as a depiction of death in general. Some researchers have found links between it and the Black Death that wiped out large portions of Europe in the Middle Ages.
Many of these people believe that Prince Prospero represented the end of feudalism. Due to the Black Death's devastating impact on the European workforce, the demand for labour helped bring an end to feudalism. Prospero symbolises the class division between landowners and peasants during the mediaeval era since he exclusively invites affluent knights and women to his castle while excluding peasants and commoners (Lorcher). Allegory in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," he writes critically. This understanding was further upon by S.A. Takacs. From his point of view, the lower classes are disproportionately affected by the Red Death now that the rich have hidden it away. It's possible that the Red Death's appearance at the masquerade in the form of its victim worries the partygoers not just because the disguise is horrible, but also because it makes them think of the loved ones they've abandoned. Then he came to the following conclusion: "The deaths of Prospero and his cronies then become the revenge of the lower classes: although in life we may be unequal in fortune, we are all equal in the sight of death."
Prince Prospero has also been seen as a metaphor for the affluent and the privileged who believe they are immune to the vicissitudes of life and death. Prospero's invitation to "a thousand friends" from his court to "defy infection" and seek refuge in his fortified monastery is indicative of this line of thinking. Prospero threw a masquerade ball after five or six months of isolation. He made sure his visitors had "all the appliances of pleasure" to keep their minds off the fact that they were in danger from the Red Death. The Prince's behaviour is symbolic of the human tendency to avoid facing death by indulging in fleeting pleasures.
Seven interconnected yet discrete spaces served as the venue for the masquerade event. The importance of the number seven, the placement of the rooms, and the symbolic meanings of the colours were all scrutinised by the critics. Some people saw in the seven chambers an allusion to the seven deadly sins that Prince Prospero was so fond of indulging in. Few critics believe this to be Poe's intended message because of the few supporting pieces of evidence. According to this interpretation, Prospero exhibited haughtiness in his conviction that he was stronger than death and gluttony in his pursuit of extreme material extravagance, as evidenced by the monastery and the many forms of amusement he offered his visitors. The Prince's anger at the unwanted visitor manifested itself in a violent attack. Finally, he displayed greed by being picky about who he let stay in the monastery. Out of selfishness, he chose to prioritise people in high social positions over others who truly want assistance. On the other hand, "The Masque of the Red Death" fails to present evidence that the Prince was jealous, sexually promiscuous, or lazy. Its biggest flaw is that it can't be applied allegorically to the plot or to other metaphors that might otherwise fit together.
Civilizations all across the world have been fascinated by humankind's development, and many of these cultures have linked this process to the movement of the sun. The Egyptians, for one, saw the Sun God Ra as a metaphor for the entire human life cycle: "In the morning he is the newly born child; at noon he reaches the peak of his might and power; and in the evening, he symbolises old age, decline, and finally, death; and then he is reborn the next morning as the symbol of rebirth" (Renggli 3). The Imperial Suite of Prince Prospero was designed to symbolise the rising and setting of the sun. Because the sun rises in the east, the first of the seven rooms is situated there, representing new life. Because the sun goes down in the west, the last chamber was deliberately placed there to represent the afterlife.
If the sequence of rooms was meant to represent man's evolution, then the colours chosen for each may have been seen as a clue as to the metaphor's intended connotation. One of the favourite activities of critics is trying to discover the symbolic significance of the colours of the seven chambers, as Brett Zimmerman pointed out at the outset of his article "The Puzzle of the Color Symbolism in 'The Masque of the Red Death: Solved at Last? (qtd. in Zimmerman 60). "it is impossible to believe that a symbolist such as Poe would fail to ascribe meaning to the colours in a narrative so filled with symbolic and allegorical suggestiveness," Zimmerman wrote, despite the fact that many commentators disagree (60).
There's a blue room to start. Also, it's the room that faces east, so it makes sense that the hue would have some association with new beginnings and the break of day. Throughout his body of work, Poe has linked the colour blue to the neo-platonic concept of a pre-birth existence. According to Zimmerman's interpretation, the colour blue thus stands for eternal truths, immortality, and the divine (62-64). The colour purple was used in the second chamber. In "The Domain of Arnheim," another of Poe's stories, purple represents the hue of heaven. That's why the colour purple, like blue, is associated with feeling close to spiritual truths. To my knowledge, this is the first chamber in which the paint hue has any direct significance to Prince Prospero's story. As a result of its high production cost in the past, the colour purple has been intimately connected with the nobility for many years. Since blue represents new life and red represents passion and intensity, this space may also imply the start of development.
The next three rooms represent fruitful maturity. Green, a colour associated with lunacy since the Middle Ages, is featured in the third chamber. The colour green has become widely used in popular culture as a signifier of insanity. In the Marvel universe, black is the hue associated with villains like Loki, the Hulk, and Hela, the Goddess of Death. In Zimmerman's opinion, the room was obviously alluding to Prospero, "whose fondness of odd décor led to doubts about his sanity" (65). Moreover, the space is reminiscent of springtime, the season when new life begins to emerge. It's the prime time for development, when individuals are young.
The orange room that follows is about in the centre of the Imperial Suite's layout. The season of fall is represented by the colour orange. The leaves start to turn colours around this time of year. The orange room represents that point in life where you're halfway between being young and being elderly. This chamber is a portent of death, just like fall is to winter. The fifth room is painted a pure white. The colour white is a symbol of old age and complete development. The Aztecs selected it to symbolise the West because it is the hue associated with death. As Prospero leaves the orange room and moves towards the western half of his suite, he is, in a sense, walking to his own death (Zimmerman 66). The shade of violet chosen for the sixth chamber. If you look at the colour wheel, violet is the colour opposite to green," Zimmerman said. Therefore, it represents not the transition from death to life in the spring, but rather the transition from life to death in the fall (qtd. in Zimmerman 67). "closely covered in black velvet tapestries that draped all over the ceiling and down the walls, dropping in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same texture and tone," Poe wrote of the seventh chamber (663). "the panes here were scarlet— a vivid blood hue," making this the sole room where the windows do not match the decor (Poe 663). The fact that people automatically think of death when they see the colour black is undeniable. Red, like in "The Masque of the Red Death," represents sickness or the plague. The suite's final room is number seven, and it serves as Prince Prospero's ultimate resting place.
Nonetheless, J.P. Roppolo disproved of the assumption that the seventh chamber was the place of final judgement. He continued, "In each of the chambers, death actually occurs." It is, nonetheless, the place where one is confronted most directly with death (Roppolo 140-141). The massive black clock was housed in the seventh-floor flat. The clock is a sombre reminder of the inevitable end of life. In response to the hourly clock's menacing chime, all joy was put on hold as the partygoers listened in silence. Unease was palpable as the group tried to make sense of the strange sound that was permeating each area. The unease expressed by the visitors at the hourly chimes is representative of the anxiety many people have when they take a break from their busy lives to consider how quickly time is running out. "a soft giggle at once penetrated the gathering; the musicians looked at each other and grinned as though at their own fear and stupidity," the author writes after the chiming finally stops (Poe 664). The partygoers went back to what they were doing until the next bell rang. Twelve times at the stroke of midnight, the bell rang out, and as expected, the same trembling response was evoked. After the final bell had faded into complete quiet, those who had been enjoying their free time are startled by the appearance of a masked man who had been lurking nearby unseen (Poe 664). The clock's tolling served as a cautionary note about the impending Red Death. The abbey is no longer a safe haven from the Prince's imminent demise. "Like a robber in the night," the Red Death had entered (Poe 666).
To fully understand the significance of the Ebony Clock, one must be aware of the connection between time and the Red Death. In his reviews "Allegoria and Clock Architecture in Poe's 'The Masque of the Red Death,'" and "Prospero's Clock-Architecture in 'The Masque of the Red Death,' Revisited," Brett Zimmerman investigated this connection. Zimmerman included a schematic of Prince Prospero's Imperial Suite in both of his books. A curve in Prospero's suite, as depicted by Zimmerman's figure, may be found in the tracings of a half clock face. Everyone's attention was immediately drawn to the disguised person. The angry Prince Prospero ordered that he be arrested and hanged. No one dared to reach out and grab him out of terror. This allowed the Red Death to freely roam the halls. Prospero, enraged, gave chase. According to Zimmerman, "Prospero symbolises the rapidly advancing minute hand as it moves from the 11:30 p.m. position through the thirty minutes to midnight, while the Phantom of the Red Death symbolises the slowly advancing hour hand" (126).
From the blue area, the Phantom entered the purple, and finally the green room. After traversing the green area, he entered the orange. After passing through the white and violet chambers, he finally reached the black chamber. In moving between the numerous rooms, he metaphorically represented the passage of time throughout the span of a lifetime. When he ran after him into the pitch-black chamber, Prospero followed his path. There, in yet another futile attempt to outwit death, he planned to eliminate the disguised man. At last, he gives in to the Red Death and dies. Just as everyone must eventually confront their own mortality, the Prince did so by hanging himself.
Poe hated allegorical stories, but "The Masque of the Red Death" is more than a story; it's a succession of symbolic tableaux that may be read in a variety of ways. To depict society's evasive attitude towards death, critics believe Poe used his own experience with death and aspects of social class structure. He used the seven chambers, their order, and the colours connected with them to represent the several ages a person goes through from birth to death in his novel. Timepiece serves as a link between the figurative themes of the various rooms and their occupants. It's meant to symbolise the ebb and flow of life and to serve as a sombre reminder to the partygoers that their time here, like Prince Prospero's, is limited. These motifs support the idea that the narrative is an allegory about man's fruitless efforts to delay death.