Edgar Allen Poe Essays

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Edgar Allen Poe

Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston Massachusetts and is the author of "The Masque of the Red Death" (Edgar Allan Poe Biography). He had an agonizing life while growing up as his mother died due to tuberculosis when he was only two (Edgar Allan Poe Biography). After the death of his mother, Poe's father fled, leaving him as an orphan (Edgar Allan Poe Biography). In 1811, he was adopted by John Allan and Francis Allan and this is how he acquired his middle name (Edgar Allan Poe Biography). While growing up, he spent his life in and out of the army, engaging in an ongoing struggle over money with his foster father, and developing the notorious habits of alcoholism and debt (Edgar Allan Poe Biography). In 1829, his foster mother, Francis Allan, died of tuberculosis (Edgar Allan Poe Biography). He was engulfed with the same misery that he experienced as a young child when his mother died. By the age of twenty-six, he married his thirteen year old cousin, Virginia Clemm (Edgar Allan Poe Biography). Virginia, however, also died of tuberculosis in 1847 (Edgar Allan Poe Biography). This was the "third significant woman in his life to have died of the same disease" (Edgar Allan Poe Biography). All of these depressing events in Poe's life are the reason for his horrific writings, but more importantly are the motives for writing "The Masque of the Red Death". In "The Masque of the Red Death", Poe uses symbolism to develop the theme that no one escapes death.

In the beginning, Poe uses the seven coloured chambers of his fortress as well as Prince Prospero himself to develop the theme of the story. The seven chambers that Prospero creates in his fortress "[progress] from east to west from blue to black [symbolizing] the seven stages of man" (Roppolo 137). The specific order of the seven chambers is very interesting because the first blue coloured room begins in the east. The blue coloured chamber symbolizes the rising sun from the east as well as the beginning of a person's life. On the western end of the fortress, however, is a black coloured chamber. The colour black symbolizes death and is usually used in connection with death (Colour Psychology). The sun also sets in the west which symbolizes the end of a person's life. Furthermore, when Prince Prospero "first sees the masked figure in the blue, or most eastern chamber" (Roppolo 141), he charges at the masked figure in an attempt to seize him. However, the fact that Prince Prospero follows the masked figure from the eastern chamber to the western chamber symbolizes Prospero's life passing by and it is not until Prospero reaches the "ominous seventh chamber" (Wheat 52) that "the plague [kills him]" (Magill Book Reviews). This is ironic, though, considering it is Prospero himself who tries to cheat death by inviting all of his friends into his fortress in order to defeat the pestilence in the beginning. This situation clearly signifies that death follows everyone from the second that they are born and that Death is truly inescapable.

In addition to the seven coloured chambers, Poe's uses the ebony grandfather clock to develop the theme. In the seventh room, there is "gigantic clock of ebony" (Poe 4) which essentially connects "life and death together in this story" (Howard, par. 8). Its chimes "strike out the passage of life and can be heard in every other room of the entire fortress or allegorically every other stage of life" (Roppolo 84). As the party guests enjoy their festivities, they are forced to pause every time the clock chimes and are reminded "hour after hour that life, like the course of the 'Red Death' is short" (Roppolo 141). Still, it is only at midnight that "The clock, the most powerful reminder of death in the Prince's