Edgar Allan Poe is famous for his Gothic-style writing, the vast number of sinister elements that make up a perfect spine-tingling effect. Poe authored many poems and short stories, each of which is a masterpiece in itself, having an engaging storyline and impressing the audience with various stylistic devices. The present paper will focus on analyzing the short story “The Masque of Red Death” and the style that the author employed while composing it. The paper argues that the story is a shining example of Gothic writing due to the perfectly made word choice and creating a single effect throughout the narration.
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Poe’s writing style in the story selected for close reading is somewhat sinister and rich in stylistic devices. Every paragraph of the narration clarifies the author’s intention to arouse feelings of apprehension and fear in his readers. The succession of these paragraphs makes the whole idea of the story finished and indicates the storyline’s threatening character. Probably the best explanation of these feelings is offered by Poe himself in such a stylistic device as anticlimax employed when describing the reaction of Prince Prospero’s guests to the masked figure: “there arose… a buzz, or murmur, expressive of… terror, horror, and of disgust” (Poe 665). Poe’s way of writing may also be considered as mysterious. This feature is reflected in the description of the “masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before” (Poe 664-665). The author provides a detailed portrayal of the figure, and later it appears to have been only the object of people’s imagination.
When explaining how the narrator relates the story, it is impossible not to mention the abundant use of inversion, the instances of which create a peculiar effect, and emphasize the actions rather than actors. Such a focus draws the readers’ attention to the events and keeps them in suspense about what is about to happen next. Although the “deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys” seems to promise Prince Prospero’s friends the shield from the “Red Death,” it becomes obvious from the context that something tragic is going to change these people’s lives soon (Poe 662). The inverted word order is particularly powerful in describing the castle’s formidability and the impossibility of the “Red Death” to enter it. The castle had “buffoons, … improvisatori, … ballet-dancers, … musicians, … Beauty, … wine,” all of which “and security were within” (Poe 262). Immediately after this, Poe writes, “Without was the “Red Death” (262). This structure captures the attention and pushes to the conclusion that there is some faulty hope and some intangible danger because it sounds too self-assured.
Apart from the storyline, another aspect makes “The Masque of Red Death” so impressive ─ the unique tone and numerous stylistic devices employed by the author. The major effect, as has been mentioned, is produced by inversion. However, there are many other methods of making the story captivating. For instance, the use of alliteration and assonance gives the narration some peculiar sense of rhythm. The cases of repetition, metaphor, simile, synecdoche, personification, allusion, climax, and polysyndeton and the abundant use of epithets and synonyms make the story interesting to read and create a vivid picture of the events described.
The following stylistic and lexical devices have been identified in the narration:
- alliteration: “scarlet stains,” “Prince Prospero,” “such suites,” “bearing a brazier” (Poe 662), “giddiest grew,” “light laughter” (Poe 663), “disregarded the decora,” “followers felt,” “glare and glitter,” “sunk into silence” (Poe 664), “broad brow,” “slow and solemn,” “stately step,” “prince’s person” (Poe 665), “drawn dagger,” “dagger dropped” (Poe 666);
- assonance: “massy hammers,” “leave means,” “abbey was amply,” “precautions the courtiers,” “Red Death” (Poe 662), “sable drapery” (Poe 664), “tall and gaunt” (Poe 665), “rage and the shame,” “rushed hurriedly,” “deadly terror” (Poe 666);
- personification: “a closed corridor which pursued the windings,” “lungs of the clock” (Poe 663), “Time that flies,” “conceptions glowed,” “there stalked… a multitude of dreams,” “music swells,” “dreams live” (Poe 664);
- metaphor: “brazen lungs of the clock” (Poe 663);
- simile: “He had come like a thief in the night” (Poe 666);
- synecdoche: “his brow reddened with rage” (Poe 665) instead of “he reddened”;
- allusion and hyperbole: “the figure… had out-Heroded Herod” (Poe 665);
- repetition (framing): “Blood was its Avatar and its seal — the redness and the horror of blood” (Poe 662);
- climax: “seizure, progress, and termination of the disease” (Poe 662);
- polysyndeton: “happy and dauntless and sagacious” (Poe 662), “clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical” (Poe 663), “disconcert and tremulousness and meditation,” “glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm” (Poe 664);
- epithets: “scarlet stains,” “magnificent structure,” “august taste” (Poe 662), “barbaric lustre” (Poe 664), “solemn movement” (Poe 665);
- synonyms: “color / hue,” “chamber / extremity / apartment / suite,” “ornaments / tapestries / decorations,” “windows / casements / panes,” “lamp / candelabrum / fire / candle / light” (Poe 663).
While the whole story attracts attention and sounds exciting, several passages strike the reader as particularly important. The first of them is at the beginning of the narration, and it describes the castle in which Prince Prospero is planning to escape death (Poe 662). The second revealing moment is when the author portrays the gigantic clock and the effect its chiming produces on the prince’s guests (Poe 663-664). Finally, the last passage that is particularly significant is the scene of Prospero’s death (Poe 666). All of these moments have in common is their relation to realizing the impossibility to run away from death.
The author, as if mocks the prince and his guests in the beginning, describing the “gates of iron,” the process of welding the bolts, the ample provision, and the absence of the need to “grieve, or to think” (Poe 662). The first realization of the imminent death occurs when the clock strikes: even “the giddiest grew pale” (Poe 663). In the end, “was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death” (Poe 666). The author shows that no matter how hard one tries to escape the end of one’s life, there is nothing to be done.
Poe’s “The Masque of Red Death” is indeed a shining example of a Gothic story due to many aspects. There is a variety of stylistic and lexical devices, making the narration engaging and intriguing. The narrator’s tone keeps the reader in suspense, and vividly describes all people, events, feelings, and apprehensions. The single effect of the narration and the exuberant choice of words add to the general impression of the story’s greatness. “The Masque of Red Death” offers a crucial issue to consider reflected through the exquisite tone and style.
Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Masque of Red Death.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Robert S. Levine. Vol. 1, W. W. Norton & Company, 2017, pp. 662-666.