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Imagery in The Masque of the Red Death

Blood: A prevalent image in “The Masque of the Red Death,” blood is used to introduce the symbolic relevance of the color red. It also drives the images of horror through visual and kinesthetic imagery. The symptoms of the Red Death involve bleeding pores and “scarlet stains” on the body, evoking visual and kinesthetic images of disease and pain. The “blood-red” window panes in the black room give people a “ghastly” cast, evoking visual images of bloody faces and bodies. Blood, a natural part of the body, is cast as a source of fear, building horror through the estrangement of the body.

Imagery Examples in The Masque of the Red Death:

The Masque of the Red Death

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"The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat...."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The noun “habiliment” means clothing, specifically clothes worn as part of a uniform or for a specific occasion. The “habiliments of the grave” refer to the clothes or the shroud that a corpse was buried in. To be “gaunt” is to be lean and grim in appearance, often in reference to someone who is ill. This description of the masked figure evokes a visual image of the Grim Reaper, often depicted as a skeleton or corpse shrouded in the “habiliments of the grave.” The “terror, horror, and disgust” that the figure has inspired in the masqueraders stems from the fact that it is a physical embodiment, an avatar, of what they sought to avoid: the Red Death.

"there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The auditory imagery in this passage describes the sound from the clock and the cessation of all other sounds. The masquerade is a lively event, with musicians, dancing, and conversation. However, whenever the “brazen lungs” of the clock let out their “clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical” note, everything else stops. The repetition of “and” in the description of the clock chime emphasizes the oppressive nature of the sound. It also adds a musical feel to the prose and extends the description across the page, mimicking the way the masqueraders perceive the rhythmic echo of the sound.

"shrouded..."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

The verb “to shroud” means to cover or envelop something. It is most commonly used to refer to the act of wrapping a corpse for burial. The visual imagery in the description of the black room is heavy and oppressive, with phrases like “shrouded” and “falling in heavy folds” adding a sense of weight. Furthermore, the carpet and the ceiling being the same color gives the sense of darkness enclosing all sides. Overall, the visual imagery evokes the idea of being buried in a coffin, which were often lined with dark fabrics.

"There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution...."   (The Masque of the Red Death)

In describing the symptoms of the Red Death, the narrator blends kinesthetic and visual imagery to emphasize the disease's gruesome nature. The “sharp pains” and “dizziness” appeal to readers’ awareness of their own bodies, and the “profuse bleeding at the pores” and the “dissolution,” or decomposition, of the skin paints a stark visual image. Combined with the emphasis on the horrific “redness” of the blood, the body is further estranged as a source of pain, dying and rotting even as those with the disease are still, briefly, alive.

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