The Mask of the Red Death

The COVID-19 pandemic stretches across the world, threatening students far and wide. Returning from their holiday slumber, students head to Midtown Gainesville to forget the pains caused by the pandemic. Tired, weary and anxious for fun, they go out and meet with friends at the club. Having had it before or thinking they never will, the young adults lose all care in the world just for a little thrill. But be warned; be weary; a parallel between the Gator students and Prince Prospero’s guests most revered draws near. Heed the lesson embedded in Edgar Allen Poe’s tale “The Masque of the Red Death.”

In the short story, Prince Prospero invites his friends to ride out the tide of the fatal “Red Death” plague. They seclude themselves in one of his abbeys hoping their fortifications and distractions in the form of parties protect them from the illness that threatens to kill the rest of the world.

With our mindset of “the external world could take care of itself,” we become selfish. We are okay with going to parties, clubs or unsafe social events. We indulge in “all the appliances of pleasure,” similar to those which Prince Prospero provides to his subjects who ignore the deadly sickness spreading over their land.

Despite the best efforts of Prince Prospero and his courtiers to exclude the illness from the gathering at the abbey, the Red Death figure enters the scene. He is covered in blood. His mask resembles a skull. He shows every hint of the plague he has brought into the abbey. Yet, the prince believes this figure to be a cruel joke, similar to how some students going clubbing without masks view the current pandemic. His ignorance is soon unmasked with his death.    

However, ignoring an illness that kills others while thinking we are immune allows karma to come back for us, as it did for those in Prince Prospero’s court.

The courtiers stop their partying to attack the Red Death figure. They find that his mask is not a joke, but it is instead his true form. He is the plague they have been so desperate to avoid. When we stop our partying, we go back to living a life where COVID-19 is not a joke, but by then, it is too late. The virus has taken our body as a vessel. By ignoring the virus, we become the virus. We help it spread to kill.

Just as in Poe’s tale, the sickness that threatens our social scene is hidden under a mask. The Red Death conceals his identity until it is too late. He removes his mask, and the courtiers are powerless. When we go out to clubs or bars, we remove our masks, making others powerless against the virus we may be carrying.

The courtiers believed they could avoid the Red Death. They believed the Red Death was outside the castle walls. They believed they were untouchable. We cannot make the same mistakes. When we enter our castles to party this weekend, we will know this is not the case. We will enter at our peril. Every single courtier who thought they could escape was laid to rest.

It is easy to get swept up in the fantasy of this tale — until we realize we could be next. Let this be a lesson. Ignoring a virus doesn’t make it go away. It elevates the danger it encompasses. We lower our masks, and it lowers it too. To avoid the fate of Prince Prospero’s court, we must keep our masks on and stop going out.