Tuesday, November 19, 1996
English -- Poe Essay Assignment
In "The Masque of Red Death," Poe uses aural, visual, and kinetic images to create the effect of fear in a joyful masque. Poe starts off with a description of the "Red Death." He gives gory detail of how it seals one's fate with Blood. He tells of pain, horror and bleeding. Moreover, the pestilence kills quickly and alienates the sick. This is Poe's image of death. He only bothers to tell it's symptoms. He doesn't go into the fear present in the lives of people with the disease. He describes the scene of redness and blood streaming from the pores, the face. His description of the afflicted's pain also adds to the graphically explicit exposé of the red death disease. The red death image is morbid and has a modern day counterpart that aids Poe in creating a wonderfully horrific scene. Many of the symptoms mentioned in Poe's red death fit the modern day Ebola. Both diseases are of unknown origin and attack quickly causing massive bleeding. Just as Ebola turned the society in Africa upside down, Red Death encourages desperate Prospero to put up iron gates to protect himself. This disease is meant to cause fear in the people. Referring to Red Death, Poe draws comparisons to an Avatar, a god sent image. It implies a god given invincibility to Red Death and dooms the victim to alienation from society and a painful death. Just looking at the description -- imagining the scene -- creates that fear and horror.
In contrast to the morbid images associated with red death, Poe describes a group of happy masqueraders. The central figure among the joyous people is Prince Prospero who, as suggested by his name, is prosperous and has tons of entertainment. He is not worried because his whole enclave is surrounded and protected by iron fencing. Prospero is secure and presumably happy. Prospero's "scene" emphasizes leisure and safety. The portrait of happy and lively musicians gives an ambiance to a room as well as provides the "mood" of relaxing music. Additional associations related to the sight of iron gates, security, as well as the humor of the improvisatori give a sense of a safe and enjoyable environment. The improvisatori provide a distraction, much like modern day movies; they are enjoyable and entertaining. Thus Poe has contrasted gore with happiness.
Within the joyful complex, there are seven apartments. Prospero's apartments are decorated in color themes. One apartment's decor is completely blue. Other apartments are purple, green, orange, white, violet, and finally black. The tastefully decorated rooms have a pleasing and calming effect on the partygoers. Without detailing much of the setup of each apartment, Poe creates a sensation of comfort and ease except for the final black room. Poe speaks of tapestries, colored window panes, and furnishings. Each room was uniform, comfortable, and well planned out, but the last black apartment had the interior design faux pas of red curtains. Until the last apartment, the setting sets an enjoyable mood by the images of a well decorated compound. Poe sensationalizes the "misplaced" last apartment by calling it gaudy and fantastic. The use of fire tripods in the complex also creates an eerie effect. Poe creates an environment of mystery, implying a certain evil with the black room and its placement as the last room of seven otherwise joyous apartments.
Later, Poe depicts a giant clock in the black apartment. His descriptions evoke some response to the monotony of the pendulum swinging "to and fro" (270). However, the inane clock transforms. When "the hour was stricken, there came ... a sound which was .. exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note ... [that] the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause ..." (270). Everything in the whole place stopped. The feared chime of the clock, signifying the passage of time, stops the happiness and joy of the people. To evoke a sense of how this interruption affects the party, Poe uses the word "stricken" as if someone or something fell ill. The people who are enjoying themselves vow to ignore the clock the next time, but in "three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies ... [there] were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before" (271). The clock, something not really intrinsically bad, is slowly transformed into some sort of evil, stopping happiness and security. The reader feels some anxiety as she sympathizes with the aural pain of the masqueraders. The mixing of the evil red death and the happiness of the masque begins with this clock.
When confronting the Red Death, Prospero sees "this spectral image ... [who walks] with a slow and solemn movement ... to and fro among the waltzers" (272). Poe uses the slow movement much like modern film artists uses slow motion. It emphasizes the character or scene involved, casts light on detail, and gives a sense of inevitability. The frightening red death mixes, as it has been determined by a higher power, with the joyous masque. Gazing at the forbidden infestation of red death, all the people dare not move, only Prospero says, "Who dares ..." and holds "aloft a drawn dagger ... in rapid impetuosity ..." (272,273). The image of Prospero in panic and desperation is highlights one reaction to the evil that hid in his own complex. The happiness once felt now slowly wanes and morphs into fear and despair that rages when there is no where left to go. That fear, manifested as Red Death, "stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock ..." and all fall in death with his presence. Even the clock "went out with that of the last of the gay."
Poe paints a dichotomy of bright, varied, and interesting colors contrasting with dark black. These colors blend, even though one may fight and try to protect itself against the other. Using aural as well as visual images, Poe presents to the reader the clock, a symbol for time, which lurks as an enemy waiting to unleash an inevitable horror on the masses. With this inevitable and explosive mixing, Poe paints a picture of happiness, gaiety, and liveliness, that decays into a dark abyss of the last, black apartment.
The conclusion is an additional step by changing the emphasis of imagery to the conflict.