The Masque of the Red Death

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    Grant Glass

    Post here to talk about Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death

    Joyanne Terry

    In reading this short story, I immediately made the connection to the HIV/AIDs epidemic, although this story could really be applied to any crisis. In this story, there is a plague called the Red Death circulating Prince Prospero’s kingdom, but, instead of taking any action to help his citizens, he gathers 1000 friends of his, shuts himself up behind his palace walls and throws parties as entertainment. Similarly, during the AIDs crisis, not much national attention was given because those who were in the elite class or believed themselves to have the “right lifestyle” (a heterosexual lifestyle) thought that those affected were being rightfully punished for their actions. Thus, they closed the proverbial palace walls and largely ignored the suffering of others. However, with time, AIDs found its way to those who deemed themselves innocent. In class, we talked about two intances of this in which a woman who was white, conservative and in a heterosexual relationship got the disease. Similar to the Red Death, when AIDs made its way to the halls of the elite class, only then did they begin to take any action. I also can see some similarities to our current coronavirus pandemic; the problem, in this case, is not that there is little coverage of the spreading of the virus. The issue is that certain groups, such as undocumented people, people with low incomes or those who ar typically marginalized by society run a high risk of catching the virus but have a lower chance of surviving. They often can not stay home, as they need their income in order to survive, but if they contract the virus, they will not have proper access to medical care. Since these people make up a sizable portion of the US, it stands to reason that protecting these people would ultimately protect us all. However, little is being done; the guidelines for reducing exposure to the virus does not take into consideration people’s circumstances and whether they can follow them appropriately. There is little finnancial help especially for undocumented people. Those who are well off will be able to lessen their chances of exposure, but those who are not are left outside of the gates of safety to suffer.

    Angel Scialdone

    Hi Joyanne, great response to Poe’s piece! I found this reading so interesting and full of symbolism, such as the colors of the room, the clock, etc. I also saw a connection between the Red Death and the AIDS epidemic in how it was publicly viewed. In addition to certain/more-privileged groups feeling like the could avoid contracting AIDS, they also feared the disease and those it infected first, the homosexual population. This fear translated into hate and discrimination of gay men. People did not want to touch or be near homosexuals, regardless or not if they had AIDS, due to stigmas surrounding the disease. In the film 5B, we see how misconceptions regarding how AIDS spread influenced how AIDS patients were treated in most hospitals. Staff and nurses did not want to clean patient’s beds, remove their trash, take their breakfast trays, etc. because they believed it placed themselves at risk. This caused AIDS patients to be completely neglected and their personhood ignored during their time of suffering.

    In Poe’s piece, the party attendees feared entering the black room with red windows because it reminded them of the Red Death. Once the figure in the blood mask and costume became apparent, people did not want to get close to it either, similar to how people did not want to get close to AIDS patients. As the fear of people in the castle grew, they attacked the masked figure, which reminds me of how homosexuals were physically attacked and ridiculed during the AIDS epidemic, and how AIDS patients were attacked mentally and emotionally out of fear of contraction. Both scenarios highlight how disease outbreaks and their narratives heavily influence our treatment towards one another and how fear shapes our response to the outbreak, whether that be responding with sadness, hatred, isolation, etc. However, Pricilla Wald emphasizes the need for these responses to maintain compassion and fairness to avoid discriminating against a certain group, such as homosexuals, since we are all socially and globally connected. One group should not be discriminated against for disease outbreaks because we all play a unique role in the interconnected system in which we exist.


    Angel, you had a really insightful post about the Red Death and comparing it to HIV/AIDS. Though I noticed some similarities between this piece and the AIDS epidemic, I did not make all of the connections between the violence of the people towards the masked figure and the violence towards homosexual men who were presumed to have AIDS. It is interesting to think that the people in the story thought they were above getting the Red Death because of their prestige, it reminds of class last Friday and learning about the politicians wife. She was seen as “too good” to get AIDS because she was a straight woman in a relationship. Her being diagnosed with AIDS was a real shock to people. I also think that it is interesting that this piece was called Red Death and that the color to support AIDS is red. Much like the people who wanted to avoid the red and black room, people tried to avoid individuals who had AIDS or were presumed to have AIDS.


    The Masque of the Red Death tells the story of a plague that progresses in each individual within thirty minutes, escalating in extreme bleeding. Prince Prospero locked himself away in his castle, buying pleasurable activities and security. Away from the outside world, he protects himself from the disease. Eventually, at a masked ball that the Prince arranges, attention is drawn to a man who appears similar to a corpse. It is apparent that he is bleeding, infected by the plague, and eventually, the Red Death consumes every one at the ball.

    This reminds me of other illnesses and conditions that we have talked about in class. It is common to an extent to think of certain conditions as only affecting “the other.” When class and wealth cannot protect an individual from falling to the ailment, the illness is universal and taken almost more seriously. We see that now with coronavirus. Pandemics do not respect geographic boundaries or pick their victims based on wealth. Everyone is equal in the face of disease, which is shown in the Red Death. While the Prince puts up physical boundaries to protect him from the outside world, he is no different from anyone else when exposed to the plague.

    Grace Sword

    The Masque of the Red Death is a prime example of why Poe is my favorite poets; through his use of metaphors and imagery, Poe creates a story to describe the horrors of the disease, specifically TB which took the life of his mother and, eventually, his wife. I can’t even imagine how much different this story would’ve been if he wrote this after his wife’s death, or even during the time her symptoms were consuming her. I keep thinking about how this poem relates to the reoccurring idea that literature is a fantastic form to portray illness and morality. A pandemic that acts very quickly or has life-altering symptoms like TB, AIDS, or even the Coronavirus is almost so surreal, that you kind of need a fanciful outlet to wrap around the serious situation. Literature has the ability to really unite people and remind people they are not alone in their suffering.

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