According to Poe “The "Red Death" had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or hideous." Prospero then uses “all appliances of pleasure” (Poe, 1842) so as to divert the minds of the guests from the suffering and death outside. He organizes a huge costume ball. However, the Red Death comes into the castle disguised in a costume and claims the lives of all those who were present in the ball. The story is like a myth or a fairy tale and explores themes like man’s fear of death, madness, sin and the end of the world.
Poe excelled in Gothic horror fiction and this story is a very good example of this genre. According to Dictionary.com, “Gothic” represents “noting or pertaining to a style of literature characterized by a gloomy setting, grotesque, mysterious, or violent events, and an atmosphere of degeneration and decay”. The Masque of the Red Death has the dark, gloomy and supernatural atmosphere required for a gothic story and it also has a mysterious sequence of events taking place. The Gothic style of literature was quite prominent in England in the first half of the nineteenth century. That Poe was exposed to Gothic literature during his school days in London is very evident.
The main theme of the story is that no one escapes death. Even though we like, Prince Prospero, seek happiness all the time and try to ward off death, in the end, we cannot escape death. The Biblical reference at the end of the story makes us aware that death comes "like a thief in the night," and that even those who seek "peace and safety…shall not escape." (I Thessalonians)
That Poe was a master of the short story is exemplified by The Masque of the Red Death. According to Poe, in a short story every word, from beginning to end should be tightly focussed contributing to the overall effect.