When I teach 10th grade, I always teach this story and it seems exceptionally relevant to our current culture. "Masque." Poe was exceptionally talented at writing the perfect opening paragraph.
THE “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress, and termination of the disease, were the incidents of half an hour.
Thus Poe begins the story of a Prince trying to ride out a plague, expecting that his money would shield him from the worst of it. We are all Prince Prospero and we are all the shadows in the masquerade. We are ruled by fear, chaos, and hate. We mistake greed for ambition and worship at the altars of those we perceive to be our betters. We love our neighbors if they have the exact same politics and despise them if they don't.
Because "Masque" is an allegory for both a pandemic and an oligarchy, it had a unique and singular impact in 2020 and 2021.
Now, I wonder if I should teach it at all because my students are already traumatized enough by this shakeup of society. Do they really need to read an allegory that ends with no hope for the future? Or will reading the story prove cathartic and relatable & let them know that they are not alone inside a terrible human experience?
No matter the decision, I feel everyone should read this story at least once, as it is one of Poe's finest works and a masterclass in writing allegories.
The final line resonate in 2022 and is one of my favorites in all American Literature:
"And Darkness and Decay and Death held illimitable dominion over all."
Let's hope we can turn it around before it turns us inside out.
This film contains some intense images of the plague.