How was Poe's writing affected by his life?

  • Category: Literature, Writers,
  • Words: 548 Pages: 2
  • Published: 31 March 2021
  • Copied: 130

Trauma can influence everyday life. Edgar Allen Poe’s traumatic experiences with 19th century plagues has certainly influenced his terror-filled stories. In Poe’s short story, Masque of the Red Death, a disease known as the Red Death that causes a gruesome death plagues a fictional country. Prince Prospero attempts to escape the Red Death by sealing himself and thousands of his equally wealthy friends inside his castle. In Masque of the Red Death, Poe uses allegory to illustrate the fictional disease he has created, the passage of time, and the inevitability of death.

Edgar Allen Poe has taken inspiration from historical diseases, such as Tuberculosis and the bubonic plague. In the story, Poe describes the plague as “The Red Death had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avator and its seal” (Poe 1). The Red Death is a devastating tragedy that has almost wiped out the country. The amount of fatality that the Red Death has is a direct link to the bubonic plague. For example, during the bubonic plague, “There were so many deaths and so many bodies that the authorities did not know what to do with them, and carts piled high with corpses became a common sight across Europe. It seemed the only course of action was to stay put, avoid people, and pray.” (Cartwright)  The bubonic plague was so terrible that there was not really anything that they could do to protect themselves except for avoiding others. Which is the same course of action The Masque of the Red Death’s main character, Prince Prospero, has taken. 

The Red Death has also been conspired to have taken inspiration from the disease that took Poe’s mother and wife, Tuberculosis. Poe describes the symptoms of the Red Death as “sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men” (Poe 1). The loss of the women in his life have deeply affected the way Poe writes. This could have been why he has taken these diseases and personified them. In addition, “as the active form of the disease progresses, people might experience fevers that last for weeks, a cough that doesn't go away, coughing up blood or phlegm from deep inside the lungs, chest pain, night sweats, loss of appetite, weight loss and fatigue” (Crowell).  The Red Death and tuberculosis/bubonic plague share a lot of the same symptoms. 

Poe uses the ebony clock to symbolically represent the inevitability of death and mortality. In the story, “And, anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of velvet. And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand” (Poe 3).  At every striking hour, the guests at the party go silent out of fear. The guests become more and more aware of the fact they have absolutely no control over time. For example, “Despite their attempts to escape the Red Death, the clock reminds Prospero and his friends that their revels must come to an end, as the clock counts down to the inevitable arrival of death” (Marissa). At the end of the story, the clock strikes midnight. All of the guests are in the farwest room, the Red Death has arrived, and Prospero and his guests perish.

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