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Themes and Symbols in Poe’s The Masque (Mask) of the Red Death

Themes and Symbols in The Masque of the Red Death

The literature of Edgar Allan Poe can either be viewed as extremely simple or incredibly complicated, and his short story “The Masque of The Red Death” is no exception. This story can either be viewed as a simple story of horror, with no deeper imbedded meanings, or it can be broken down into many symbols with several possible meanings. Perhaps this story tells of the struggle between man and death, perhaps it speaks of an author’s struggles and dreams, or perhaps it was merely written as a tale of horror. Arguments can be made to support all of these overall themes, and there are even more points of view offered about the story that can be explored if someone wishes to find a view with which he or she can better understand or identify.

One possible theme of the story is that it is nothing more than the imaginings of a dreaming mind. According to Richard Wilbur, this is partially shown through the geometry contained in the story. He states that, “Poe quite explicitly identifies regular angular forms with everyday reason, and the circle, oval, or fluid arabesque with otherworldly imagination” (269). If Poe used unusually shaped rooms to show dreams, and the supernatural, then with his description of the seven chambers being, “so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect” (qtd. In Wilbur 269), it would appear as though either a dream is in progress, or something supernatural is taking place. In this interpretation of the story, Poe is taken quite literally in some ways, such as his terming the lords and ladies at the costume ball as being “dr…

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… to a reader personally, and give that person an opportunity to form an individual opinion over it.

Works Cited

Etienne, Louis. “The American Storytellers-Edgar Allan Poe.” Affidavits of Genius. Ed. Jean Alexander. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1971.


Halliburton, David. Edgar Allan Poe: A Phenomenological View. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Masque Of The Red Death.” Bridges: Literature across Cultures. Eds. Gilbert H. Muller and John A. Williams. New York:

McGraw-Hill, 1994. 495-498.

Wilbur, Richard. “The House of Poe.” The Recognition of Edgar Allan Poe. Ed. Eric W. Carlson. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1966.


Womack, Martha. “Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death.'” The Poe Decoder. Online. Internet. 20 May 1998.

Cultural References in Ah Mah

Cultural References in Ah Mah

In almost every piece of literature there can be found references to the author’s or the narrator’s culture. Having an understanding of this culture can help one better understand a literary work. Reading a work that contains references to a culture can also spark interest and inspire the reader to learn more about the culture that is represented in the work. One such piece of literature is the poem “Ah Mah,” written by Shirley Geok-lin Lim. This poem contains many references to Chinese culture that are very interesting and inspire curiosity. By researching the culture of China, one can better understand the references to it in “Ah Mah.” Then, the poem has more meaning to the reader than if he did not posses any knowledge about Chinese culture.

“Ah Mah” is a poem about the author’s grandmother. The author, Lim, describes her grandmother in detail and explains how her grandfather “bought” her grandmother. Lim describes her grandmother as a very small and thin woman (10-11). She gives the impression that her grandmother had a hard life even though it appears that the family had enough money. The fact that the family is Chinese is also very apparent due to the many references to Chinese culture that are made as Lim describes aspects of her grandmother’s life.

The first aspect of the grandmother’s life that is a reference to her culture is the mention of silk. In the poem, Lim states that her grandmother “tottered / in black silk” (7-8). This reference may seem unimportant at first glance. However, if one has knowledge of the country of China, it becomes apparent that silk is important. Silk has been a major resource in China since ancient times. A route called the Silk Road was an important path followed by traders who traded goods with the Chinese for raw silk. Silk has been abundant in China for a long time and it was a more common fabric there before it was popular in other places. Silk fabric was still considered a sign of status in China, but it was more easily found there than in other parts of the world (“Chinese Culture”).

Another reference to Silk in the poem that is more indirect is “Soochow flower song girl,” which is referring to the grandmother (Lim 12). Soochow is a city in China that is also known as Suzhou or Wuxian city.

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