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Priscilla Wald’s “Introduction“, Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative and Edgar Allen Poe’s ““The Masque of the Red Death” relay the concept of contagious disease in similar yet diverging ways. Priscilla Wald uses superspreaders as a role given to people who are deemed accountable for the spreading of infectious disease. An example that fit into the realm of so-called “Yellow Peril” was a flight attendant who was determined to have infected the masses through her contact with others. This lead to what Wald says is “a convention of the outbreak narrative, in which human carriers rhetorically (or, in some of the fiction, literally) bring the virus itself to life.”. This same metamorphosing is what gives the Red Death such infamy in Poe’s piece. Prior descriptions of a tall figure adorned in a corpse-like mask and wielding a weapon would lead one to believe that Poe’s antagonist would be similar to the count in Phantom of the Opera. However, a mere glancing at this assailant leaves the partygoers dead in which he vanquishes to wreak more havoc.

I have read Masque of the Red Death on numerous occasions but it was until I read the Introduction piece that it had more power. One quote that really stuck out was ” into a holocaust was not just a new infectious agent but a proliferation of roads, cities and airports, a breakdown of social traditions, and the advent of blood banking and needle sharing” (Wald 6). In comparing a disease to Holocaust-like activity emphasizes the horrors of infectious disease. However, it also antagonizes areas that are hubs of such illness. Ironically contagion means to touch but in a broader sense became the results of harmful interactions with causal agents. These “causal agents, change the scope of what humans carry in a rhetorical sense (mindsets and rumors leading to hysteria) as well as the physical.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Masque of the Red Death.” Poe’s Works: Edgar Allan Poe Museum, PoeMuseum, 1842,

Wald, Priscilla. 2008. “Introduction“, Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative.

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