Symbolism of Color in ‘The Masque of the Red Death’
Edgar Allan Poe focuses an intense amount of information on the setup of Prospero’s suite within ‘The Masque of the Red Death’. The topic is addressed in the beginning of the story with great detail and is mentioned again during the final chase. It is impossible for this concentrated focus to be without meaning. Symbolism is commonly used by writers to convey hidden feelings and to compel the reader to see beyond the written word. Symbolism forces the reader to focus intelligently on not only the words on the page, but the unseen implications they convey. The meanings within Poe’s text are greatly debatable since every reader views things differently. Poe’s use of symbolism in ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ seems fairly consistent according to critics. Poe uses the location and colors of the rooms within the castellated abbey to illustrate the progression of life from birth through death. He also uses the scene with the “spectral image” (Poe 265) to suggest humanity’s immense fear of death. Support from Poe and his critics will illustrate the importance of this symbolism within the tale of ‘The Masque of the Red Death’
One of the first topics that Poe addresses in ‘The Masque of the Red Death’ is the location of the rooms within the abbey. Poe tells the reader that in most palaces, “suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded”(Poe 262). This palace is quite different in that “The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect”(Poe 262). The rooms are situated in a way that forces the viewer to see only one room at a time and each room is located from East to West. This directional location most commonly refers to the progression of the sun through the sky. The birth or rise of each new day begins in the East and dies or sets in the West, this is symbolized through the color of each room within the abbey. If the first room is located “at the eastern extremity”(Poe 262), then it is logical to assume that the rooms proceed in a westerly path which puts the last room at the western extremity. According to H. H. Bell Jr., “These directions are time-honored terms which have been used to refer to the beginning and the end of things- even life itself”(Bell 101). As the evidence will soon show, the first room is symbolic of birth while the last indicates death. This directional progression is the first sign of the symbolism signifying the procession of the rooms from birth through death.
The first room described within Prospero’s suite is located “at the eastern extremity”(Poe 262) and is decorated entirely in blue. The color blue is often used to represent new birth or renewal. Expanding upon the example of sunrise and sunset, the first thing one typically notices upon the rising of the sun is the lightening of the sky. Therefore, the initial color of the sunrise or birth of the new day is blue. This is significant in “The Masque of the Red Death” because it is the first room described, as well as being the one in which Prince Prospero is located when the “spectral image” (Poe 265) is first noticed at the masquerade ball. This indicates that Prospero begins his chase after death at birth or during the dawning of new life.
The second room described is adorned in purple. The color purple is often associated with prosperity or accomplishment. It is the stage of adulthood in which someone has gained power or accomplished goals within life. The color purple is commonly associated with royalty, which is significant in relation to Prospero considering his royal standing as a Prince. The color purple can often be seen in the setting of the sun or the death of each day, which seems to indicate the decline of life. Though...
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