A Literary Analysis of the Masque of the Red Death and the Tell-Tale Heart and the Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe

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Tue Poetry Edgar Allan Poe is known throughout the literary world as a master of his craft. This prolific wordsmith is the author of many classic tales including; “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Black Cat.” These works feature his signature narrative technique of suspense, that allow him to create uniquely powerful pieces of literature. In these stories, Poe uses this narrative technique to engender feelings of horror, a fear of the unknown, and highlights his use grotesque imagery in an attempt to generate suspense and create a deeply thrilling experience for the reader. “The Tell-Tale Heart” which is arguably Edgar Allan Poe’s most widely appreciated work, incorporates all three literary elements outlined above, as the reader is plunged deep into the psyche of a madman.

From the inception of the story, Poe introduces suspense by using the fear of the unknown. He writes, “True! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” (691). This rather forward introduction, to the clearly deranged narrator of the story, gives the reader a jolt of unease and sets the stage for the rest of his deranged ramblings. Additionally, he creates suspense by describing the Old Man’s eye as grotesque and vulture-like, and cites this as the reason for his unease. He states, “So I opened it -you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily – until, at length a simple dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.” (692). However, this is not truly the nature of the man’s problems. Instead, his problems stem from a mental dysfunction, one which truly imbibes the reader with a feeling of horror, as the stage is set for further misdoings. Finally, in the last section of the story, Poe manages to wrap up the notion of suspense through a cleverly devised series of quotations. He uses self-narration to describe the mental breakdown of the main character.

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The narrator exclaims, “Almighty God! –no, no! They heard! -they suspected! -they knew! -they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I nmust scream or die! and now -again! –hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!” (693). Another of Poe’s widely recognized stories, “The Masque of the Red Death,” is about an ironically named fictional prince by the name of Prospero. It details his attempts to evade the impending doom of the Bubonic Plague and effectively cheat death. In this allegorical story, Prospero locks himself away in his palace to avoid the plague’s mortal nature. Once again, Poe wastes no time throwing the reader into a suspenseful state, as the first sentence begins, “The “Red Death” had long devastated the country.

No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous” (696). As he continues, the theme of horror is exaggerated through his narrative use of suspense, as nearly every element that is introduced alludes to grim nature of life and death. This is best described through the dichotomy that is presented between the immense wealth and beauty of the Prince’s estate and the grotesque nature and inevitability of death. Poe details, “The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet –a deep blood color” (696). This quote uses the vivid imagery of a dilapidated room to represent the encroaching plague that will eventually lead to the downfall of Prospero, despite his immense fortune and outward appearance. This central theme stands as one of the most powerful examples of suspense throughout Poe’s works. Following this, the story is concluded as Prospero is a participant in a deadly chase for his life.

The following passage details his last moments, “He bore alotft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turmed suddenly and confronted his pursuer” (697). At the end of this suspenseful chase, the once wealthy and safe prince confronts his own mortality and the notion that one cannot avoid the simple fact that death is, despite social status or wealth, always inevitable. Finally, in the third story being analyzed “The Black Cat,” the reader is given another glimpse into the psyche of a madman. However, this story differs from “The Tell-Tale Heart,” most notably, by the manner in which the narrator’s madness manifests itself. He confesses his alcoholic nature, rather than being completely overcome by delusion like the narrator in “The Tell-Tale Heart.” This story also features Poe’s trademark use of suspense, crafted through the literary elements outlined above.

The most obvious example being the narrators blinding rage that makes him attack his own wife with an axe. In Edgar Allan Poe’s classic stories, “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat,” the reader is masterfully gifted suspense through Poe’s use of horror, the fear of the unknown, and his trademark grotesque imagery. These carefully chosen literary elements, create a unique and terrifyingly demented experience that entertains and thrills even the most hardened of readers by creating suspense.

Works Cited

  1. Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Black Cat.” 1843. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. By Baym Nina. 8th ed. Vol. B. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012.
  2. 695-701. Print. Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Masque of the Red Death.” 1843.
  3. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. By Baym Nina. 8th ed. Vol. B. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. 696-701. Print.
  4. Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Tell-Tale Heart.” 1843. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. By Baym Nina. 8th ed. Vol. B. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. 691-95. Print.

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A Literary Analysis of the Masque of the Red Death and the Tell-Tale Heart and the Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe. (2023, Feb 18). Retrieved from


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