Comparing Symbolism in Poe
Comparing the Symbolism of the Houses in the Red Death and House of Usher
Most stories have occurrences of symbolism. Symbols are used everyday in many different ways. For instance, the Bald Eagle is used to symbolize the determination and nobility of our United States of America. In both the Masque of the Red Death and the Fall of the House of Usher, the symbolic nature of the House plays an imperative role.
The House in the Red Death was a very elaborate and colorful establishment. Each room inside of this enormous house is decorated in a different hue. The easternmost room is decorated in blue, with blue stained-glass windows. The next room is purple with the same color stained-glass windows, then green, then orange, then white, then violet. The seventh room is black, with red windows. Accompanying this last room is a giant wooden clock. Every hour on the hour the clock emits a deafening gong, which puts an immediate halt to any ongoing activities. The fact that the rooms go from east to west is supposed to symbolize life on earth. The sun rises in the east, sets in the west. Our life cycle also follows that pattern. If you look at a typical twenty-four hour day, the day is “born” in the east and “dies” in the west. Along with the rooms following an east to west pattern, the color schemes in the rooms also follow this pattern. The first rooms go from blue, which represents the beginning of the day, or life, to purple, green, orange and finally the white room represents noontime. Next comes violet followed by the last room, which is black with red windows symbolizing the end of the day, or the end of life.
The whole purpose of these rooms being decorated in the first place is due to the fact that Prince Prospero has decided to throw a ball for all the rich people in the nearby village, which is being plagued by a fatal disease known as the Red Death. All the rich folk run away to the mansion in hopes of eluding the Red Death. In the meantime at the ball, everyone is having a great time. It seems as though they are almost disregarding the fact that there is a plague going on. They almost have the mentality that as long as they hide out in the mansion, they will be immune to the Red Death. The narrator of this story describes to the reader of how no one is venturing into the seventh room. This could be for many reasons. First off, it is the closest room to the giant wooden clock, which makes a noise proportional to its size. As mentioned before, every time the clock strikes the hour, it emits a thunderous chime, which in turn puts an immediate halt to the festivities. This clock is also symbolic because it is an hourly reminder of passing time and with the time goes an hour of their lives. It is used as a reminder to the guests at the ball that they are not immortal and that you cannot elude the Red Death. The second reason why none of the guests are venturing into the seventh room may be due to its looming mortality. No matter how you look at it, this house it a constant reminder of mortality.
The house in the Fall of Usher is also a very powerful symbol. In a nutshell, the condition of the house is directly connected to the condition of the family living in it, or lack there of. Roderick Usher and most of his immediate family are direct results of incest. As a result, with each passing generation, the effects of the incest plays out in the physical well being of the descendants. Once a gorgeous establishment, the House of Usher is now on the verge of dilapidation. The same goes for the inhabitants of the House, they are on the verge of dieing. And as the current generation of Ushers pass away, the entire family ends. In a way, the house is the family, and as soon as the family ends, the house will go with it.
The connection between the houses in these two short stores is death. In both cases, the houses represent a sign of things to come. In the Red Death, the imminence of death is depicted through the rooms, as they are acting as stages of life and eventually death. The wooden clock acts as a looming reminder of our lives passing. In the Fall of Usher, the house is directly connected to the individual living in that house. If the individual is in bad shape, so isn’t the house. Nothing is what it ever what it appears to be; there is always a deeper meaning.
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