“The Masque of the Red Death” and Introduction of “Contagious”

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    Looking at these two pieces side by side, the style of writing could not be more different. However, looking at the two more closely, I see parallels between the two works and the messages that they each convey. One major point that stands out to me from the Introduction of Contagious is the idea that victims of the disease, and especially those that are nonsymptomatic carriers, are often seen as criminals and accomplices of the disease. People such as “Typhoid Mary” and the flight attendants who unintentionally spread the disease came to be viewed as dangerous people and individuals one must avoid. I saw this as a subtle point in “The Masque of the Red Death” too. The people who hid themselves away in the abbeys were trying to shut out those inflicted with the disease, the perpetrators of the disease. They tried to forget about the suffering in the world by living in a paradise of their own making. I think that “The Red Death” found them even in their isolated world is telling because it demonstrates that trying to forget about the chaos of the world and escape the “perpetrators” will often have no effect in the end. I think this point was also made by their abuse of the figure signifying the “The Red Death” and their attempt to kill it.


    I agree with your analysis that the two readings made great companion pieces. In our discussion of HIV today, I was reminded of the 4 H’s of HIV (those who were initially described as being more susceptible to the disease): heroin users, Haitians, hemophiliacs, and homosexuals. This classification served as a way to separate these “others” from the in-group and demonized those groups of people. It was disconcerting to read the introduction to Contagious and Poe’s piece, talk about the early stigmatization of people with HIV, and tie it to how certain people have called SARS-CoV-2 the “Chinese Virus.” It’s amazing and upsetting to consider how scapegoating of groups of people still occurs today. I saw a parallel between the elite in Poe’s story and the celebrities and politicians of today who have attempted to “escape” the virus in their multimillion dollar mansions, pretending that virus doesn’t exist or masquerading as icons of ideal health who aren’t susceptible. I saw the visitor in the “Masque of the Read Death” (the bacteria/virus/contagion) as a great ( or not so great) equalizer — one who kills irrespective of socioeconomic status or geopolitical power. I also compared the party revelers to our country; many believed that we could contain the spread, yet now we have potentially the highest incidence rate in the world. I was reminded of the biblical quote, “pride comes before the fall.”

    – Kyle Lambert

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