Author Dean Koontz once said, “A man begins dying at the moment of his birth. Most people live in denial of Death's patient courtship until, late in life and deep in sickness, they become aware of him sitting bedside” (The Husband 1). Clearly, death is inevitable. This widely occurring theme has been present throughout history, including the Black Death, which decimated millions of people in 14th century Europe. This plague struck terror in millions of people because of the gruesome and quick death that one would experience. The Black Death was the basis for Edgar Allan Poe’s deathly story, “The Masque of the Red Death.” In the story, a man hosts festivities for and shelters many people while a gruesome sickness, known as the Red Death, kills people by the millions. Throughout “The Masque of the Red Death,” Edgar Allan Poe uses a variety of symbols and settings to greatly enhance the story. Through his cascading use of symbols and settings, Edgar Allan Poe exemplifies the theme that one cannot escape death.
A prominent example of symbolism that demonstrates the theme in “The Masque of the Red Death,” is the giant ebony clock. The seventh room, the black room, is where the ebony clock is located. This is significant because black is a symbol of death, which correlates to the reason for the clock being in the black room. Every hour, the clock would ring, and when it rang, the clock made “the orchestra… pause [and] the waltzes cease” (84). The people froze and were speechless as they contemplated what they were doing. They were enjoying themselves while others were dying just outside of their doors. As soon as the clock stopped ringing, the partyers continued their festivities. The silence in this moment builds tension by creating an atmosphere of eeriness. It does this because as the clock slowly rings, the people’s thoughts just linger in the silence. The awkward silence of the people symbolizes their mortality. The clock symbolizes their mortality because it is a symbol of time. Therefore, as the clock rings, it reminds them of the progression of time and acts as a reminder that they may not have long to live. The clock is a great symbol that amplifies the theme that death is inevitable. At the end of the story, after everyone has died, the clock stops. Since the clock is symbolic of time and mortality, once it stops it clearly represents that death is inevitable. Evidently, the clock is a major example of theme in “The Masque of the Red Death.”
Of the many symbols and settings used in “The Masque of the Red Death,” the most prevalent settings in the story are the seven rooms within the abbey. Edgar Allan Poe uses the seven rooms in a variety of ways. First, the rooms greatly show the theme that death is inevitable. Each of these seven rooms symbolizes a stage in a person’s life because of the symmetry between the colors of the room and the stages in a person’s life. This symbolism perfectly ties in with Shakespeare’s monologue, “All the World’s a Stage” from his piece As You Like It. The man starts his life as an unknowing child, representing the blue room. The blue room represents innocence because blue is the color of the sky and ocean. These natural elements are both open, just as babies are open to the ideas brought onto them by the world. When a man lives through his life he eventually becomes cripplingly old and shadowed by death. This age and proximity to demise symbolizes the black room with the red-stained windows. The blackness of the room is symbolic of death because of the gloominess that occurs after a person has died. Also, the bleeding, red stained windows of the room “produced so wild a look,” (84) on the people who dared to enter. The red of the room is symbolic of blood. This is because of the wild look that the people would acquire upon entering the room. Their wild expressions eventually parallel their imminent death in that same black room. This foreshadowing of their