The Masque of the Red Death: Symbolism and Irony

“The Masque of the Red Death”, Written by Edgar Allen Poe, is a short story that emphasizes on the inevitability of death. In the story, Prospero, a prince attempts to avoid the Red Death by isolating himself in one of his many castellated abbeys. Poe uses many instances of symbolism and some irony to depict the theme of the story, as the Red Death “… held illimitable dominion over all.”

“…The colours failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet—a deep blood colour.” Was how the final room was described. Each room symbolized the stages of life, from the start of birth, where everything is blue, purple was to represent the development in life, green for nourishment or development in life, orange for the setting of the sun; which also meant the end of day, or the end of life; white for the ascension to heaven, and scarlet, for death. The rooms shown the progression of life, and how it had always come to an end. This is another piece of symbolism that shows that it shows how death is a harsh, cruel, inevitable fact, and Edgar illiterates it well.

A large piece of symbolism in the story, although simplistic, was the large, ebony clock. It represented time they had left it life, “[When it chimed], the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused revery or mediation.” until the independent doom of what is the Red Death, was brought among them. It was something that brought upon the horror and depression among them, as they once again frolicked into their merriment afterwards. Time is an pending doom for anyones death, and Edgar did an amazing job making it so that the people knowingly knew that there death was apparent.

Irony was something that there was few examples of; but there was one large one that was evident in the entire story: Prince Prospero had locked himself and others inside his castellated abbey, and the Red Death brought itself upon the place, and the entire group and the Prospero himself, had locked themselves inside of the abbey, sealing their deaths. What the prince had thought to believe would give them hope in life from sealing this plague outside of the place, had instead kept him to his death, unable to run any further from it. “He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned, suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharp cry–and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon of which, instantly afterward, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. ” What this tells the reader is much up to their own to decipher, whatever it be, if you run from, or defeat death, it will be brought upon sooner.

The story is based upon how death will come to all things, and how it can’t be avoided. Edgar Allen Poe shines this through to the reader with a dark light, showing how gore some death is. “And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.” Is how it is, and how it shall stay, as long as there is life to be.



  1. hcorman Said:

    Very interesting! So Prospero followed death through all the rooms (all the stages of life) before his death…. Even Prospero’s name is ironic, given his ending. Well done!

  2. Yoyo Said:

    Thnx alot for this interesting summary of the symbols and irony in the story. It helped me a lot in my English Exam!

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