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The Masque of the Red Death

The Masque of the Red Death

by Edgar Allan Poe

Versions of Reality Theme

In the "The Masque of the Red Death," Edgar Allan Poe immerses us in an atmosphere that feels more dreamlike than real. This is in no small part because, as the story progresses, we get drawn ever more completely into a world imagined by Prince Prospero, the designer of the castle where the story takes place. Prospero is an eccentric artist figure – he may actually be mad – and everything in the masquerade ball he throws bears the mark of his weird but ingenious artistry. From the seven elaborately colored rooms in which the ball is held, to the whirling, writhing, costumed masqueraders, everything feels fantastic and imagined, like a dream or a work of art spun out of control. Just like in a dream or an artwork too, here, everything seems to mean something. In this world, it's almost impossible it to draw the line between what's real and what's a product of Prospero's half-mad mind. And there's a curious overlap between the imagination of Prospero and the imagination of Poe himself.

Questions About Versions of Reality

  1. Is Prince Prospero actually mad?
  2. Why might Prince Prospero be called an artist figure? Is he one? What evidence do you see in the text?
  3. Does "The Masque of the Red Death" feel surreal to you? Why? If so, how does Poe achieve this effect?
  4. Why do you think Poe uses such explicit dream imagery to describe the masquerade?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The masquerade is meant to suggest that life itself is dreamlike.

The masquerade ball is actually Prospero's own dream

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