Poe’s Prescience Regarding the Coronavirus

Harry Clarke, 1919

Merrymakers with music, exotic food, and entertainment seclude themselves in an isolated castle provided by a wealthy aristocrat. They are hopeful that this self-quarantine of sorts will provide the protection they seek from the “Red Death” plague in their country. They laugh at the less fortunate as they dance away the hours or watch tableaux for their enjoyment.

The plague outside kills swiftly and unexpectedly with gruesome symptoms signaling its presence — the dead lie where they have fallen in the streets. The scenario is total fiction.

Poe created the disease and the symptoms to provide embellishment for the horror he wanted to portray, as well as make a sharp social commentary. Reading the book The Mask of the Red Death provides a disquieting look at the unimaginable.

Coronavirus is a pandemic, sweeping around the globe, unseen, by unaware super-spreaders who bring it into their homes, their businesses, their conferences, and their hospitals. No one is safe, and there is no cure nor a vaccine to prevent catching it.

Death will be the result for the elderly, the frail, the poor and even the young. The one thing that may save them is a ventilator, and therein lies the rub.

Photo by Barcroft Media

Life or Death Depends on Wealth

The revelers in the castle while away their time as the less fortunate find themselves fighting for life without hope of being saved. Today, the decision between life and death may be made by medical professionals, but they are not the lone decision-makers; wealth and fame are the deciders.

If you have money and can be transported to a world-class healthcare facility, you have a chance that workers in the field will never have. You won’t say goodbye in the morning to your family as you go to work in a food-processing plant and know you’ll not come home infected, only to infect all of them. You are special and you know and expect it.

Testing kits for the coronavirus and the reagents needed for the tests are in short supply despite our being told otherwise. They are not available to all who want or need them. Hospitals are begging for stocks to save their patients. Their calls fall on ears open only to those with privilege.


A cultural divide that provided the theme of Poe’s story still exists in the 21st Century as surely as it did when he lived. The fate of all is decided by status and the access to “connections” with power and privilege.

The dead will not die in the streets as Poe described, but in their homes, as in Italy. There they will linger until a task force comes to claim them and their grieving relatives await their turn.

The “Greatest Generation” is being killed off in a war they cannot fight because the weapons have not been created to save them. Their heritage is being lost to a virus and a political system, not a physical enemy in a different uniform, and this is our most significant loss.

Coffins and corpses pile up in foreign countries with no one to help provide the proper burial we so reverently speak of when death comes.

A Lesson for the Future?

Second and third waves of the virus’ infections are sweeping across much of Europe as lockdowns are ordered. The problem remains the popular, or not-so-popular, resistance to abide by the known safety measures; masks, social distancing, and washing hands.

Those dancing in the bars and drinking in the restaurants will give up the lives of others for their pleasure. How reminiscent of Poe’s aristocracy in the castle.

Those in countries like India where millions have little access to clean water for washing, no masks, and no choice for social distancing will see millions infected and, possibly die. Is this part of a plan? No one wants to think that, but it may serve the purposes of some.

What will we learn from our present war with sickness? Will we make preparations for future pandemics, of which we are assured there will be many? Will we set up administrative offices and stockpile supplies needed to save lives and create resources to combat the latest enemy? Will we fund the research needed?

Will the research be window dressing, so hastily completed for corporate profits and political gain? We can only wonder how completing the research trials in such a short time will ensure safety. Who will die in this effort or be saddled with an unforeseen disorder? It will happen.

Will we look only at our current bank balances and stock market gains to provide succor when the topic of the virus is raised? Will we permit the current climate of “only the rich and powerful survive” to maintain its hold on our cultures?

Will the goodness and kindness we know exist be enough to combat the forces of greed and self-interest?




Dr. Farrell is a psychologist, consultant, author, interested in writing, and health. Website: http://t.co/VT8mvcAvRz

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Dr. Patricia Farrell

Dr. Patricia Farrell

Dr. Farrell is a psychologist, consultant, author, interested in writing, and health. Website: http://t.co/VT8mvcAvRz

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