This is a remarkable short story full of allegory and symbolism. Researchers claim Poe does not have a style of conveying a moral message, but I disagree; I believe the context of Poe’s story expresses the fullness of logic and moral. Nevertheless, this fantastic fantasy of horror may leave the reader deducing its meaning according to his own relativity.
The story takes place in a period of time, and region surrounded by death from a fictitious plague. There was never such a fatal and horrible plague to hit the region throughout history, “blood was its avatar and its seal” (319), claims the narrator. The plague was titled The Red Death, because one of the symptoms was abundant bleeding from the pours, claiming the lives of its victims within half an hour. No one was safe, or able to escape the inevitable Red Death. Not even the wealthiest men and woman of the region.
The Prince of the land, Prince Prospero decided to throw a party “while his dominions were half depopulated” (319). The name Prospero denotes prosperity. A man of super wealth is displayed as an absolute selfish man. Inconsiderate of those suffering from the plague beyond the gates of his castle; instead of spending his money to aid those dying in his dominion, he decides to fund a masquerade ball in his secluded castle, hosting one thousand of the wealthiest men of his dominion. Poe is clearly distinguishing the utter ruin of the super elite’s morality.
The castle was a glorious structure, heavily guarded walls and gates of iron with welded bolts, (319). It was perceived that nothing could enter the gates, not even the red death, as if the walls were invincible. The castle was adorned and supplied with beauty, dancers, music, actors and wine. Everything needed for entertainment was supplied for the Princes one thousand guest during the climax of the plague.
In the imperial suite of the castle there were seven rooms. Each room was painted a different color. The first room was the color of blue, to the second was purple, to the third was green, then orange, white, violet, and the final room, the seventh room was the most significant. The room was painted black with window panes the color of “scarlet – a deep blood color” (320). On the western wall of the seventh room was a vast clock with a pendulum swinging to and fro. Every hour the clock rang with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang echoing loudly, beyond even the music, (320).
The clock and the seven rooms with seven different colors play a significant role in the story. Professor of English and Theatre of Arts at Fuqua School in Farmville, Virginia, Martha Womack suggests that, “the seven rooms represent the seven stages of one’s life from birth to death . . . The seven rooms are laid out from east to west, reminding us of the course of the sun which measures our earthly time” (Womack). This interpretation makes sense because it correlates with the clock in the final room, which has the measurement of a twenty four hour period, representing the amount of time it takes for the sun to rise and fall from east to west.
Other researchers claim that the seven rooms signify Prince Prospero’s indulgence in the seven deadly sins. Master of Arts in Literature, free-lance writer and English High School teacher at Norwalk, Ohio Trench Lorcher describes each room in relationship to the seven sins,
- “Pride/Vanity – Pride is the excessive belief in one’s own abilities, similar to vanity, which is setting one’s heart on things of little value. Prospero’s belief that he is more powerful than death is a vivid demonstration of pride.
- Envy – It is unclear who the Prince might envy, but he sure is trying hard to impress someone.
- Gluttony – Gluttony is the act of consuming more than one is required. Instead of using his means to protect more people, something he is obligated to do as prince, he lavishes his guests with “ample provisions” and “the appliances of pleasure.”
- Lust – Lust is an excessive craving for the pleasures of the body, usually associated with sex. The era in which Poe wrote prohibited the explicit or implicit description of sex, but what do you think was going on at an anything goes party?
- Anger – The Prince becomes angry with the uninvited guest and attacks it.
- Greed – Although it is apparent Prince Prospero shares his wealth with a thousand guests, he helps those who need it least and withholds his substance from those in need.
- Sloth – Sloth is the absence of work. The prince seems like a hard worker; his work, however, is on the physical realm not the spiritual realm,” (Lorcher). Taking into account this interpretation of the seven rooms, I will add, that perhaps each of the colors of the rooms represents each of the seven sins expressed by man, which ultimately leads to death, (the seventh room).
Considering all point of views, and following the context of Poe; I believe the clock ranging on the hour of every hour until the arrival of the Red Death intrigued my thoughts the most. The following view is mine own interpretation. Every hour the clock rang with a haunting sound in the ears filtering through the minds of the elite. At the sound of the chimes the music ceases, the dancing comes to a halt, the laughing, and conversations stop. Not a sound echoes through the castle except for the loud and dull chimes. It was at this moment of cessation that the elite were able to ponder to themselves, perhaps reflecting on the reality of death plaguing what seemed to them the outside world. Perhaps the sound of the clock reminded them that even them, with all their wealth will soon meet the same fate as the lowest human creature they attempt to forget; death. The chiming soon ends, and the elite chuckles nervously as they begin to dance and laugh once again until the appearance of the Red Death.
The Red Death finally enters the castle, trespassing the security, high walls and welded bolts. Disturbing the ball, they do not recognize the plague has entered their sanctuary. This is where my interpretation differs from Lorcher’s. Prince Prospero follows death through all the rooms until he reaches the final room signifying death. Not only is it Prospero who indulges in the seven sins as they pass through all seven chambers. But the rest of the guest’s pass through all the chambers as well until they meet death face to face, and fall victim to the plague. Therefore Prince Prospero not only represents himself but all who follow him in his malevolent ways. The final line of the Poe’s literature tells the moral of the story, “and Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all” (323).
Death is a promise to all . From the wealthiest to the poorest, death does not discriminate. Lay the decaying remains of the rich along the side of the decaying remains of the poor, and there is no difference. Therefore no man ought to think of himself higher than the other. We all breathe the same air, and bleed the same blood. No man can become immortal, and no amount of money or technology can stand the hand of death when it comes.