English students compare the ‘Red Death’ to the coronavirus

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Courtesy of Zeina Daboul

Annotating her copy of the short story, sophomore Zeina Daboul works on her assignment. Daboul found the parallels between the story and modern times interesting. “When you look deeper [into the story], you can see that it reflects our society, in ways that you wouldn’t think a story written in 1842 would,” Daboul said.

Making connections between the past and modern times, English teacher Erin Fluchel’s students compare Edgar Allen Poe’s, “The Masque of the Red Death,” to the current Coronavirus pandemic. Offered as an extra credit opportunity, Fluchel’s Honors English II and English III students were tasked with analyzing Poe’s short story to dig deeper into the social effects of COVID-19. 

“I knew I wanted to open this up to kids in my class as an opportunity to think about how literature and current events can intersect,” Fluchel said. “I hoped that students could see that literature, even things written long ago, can still have meaning in our lives today.” 

After completing the assignment, sophomore Zeina Daboul recognized many parallels between “The Masque of the Red Death” and current events. 

“The story portrays a carelessness which we are exhibiting in our world today. Many people acknowledge social inequalities, the coronavirus, etc. Despite that, they often don’t do anything to address it,” Daboul said. “A poor person today is having to deal with problems beyond their financial state. They’re having to suffer because they can’t get the right education, can’t secure proper healthcare, can’t even be employed in a high paying job.”

Sophomore Taylor Burns feels that she learned more about empathy from the assignment. 

“We are taking measures to prevent the spread of corona–that doesn’t mean it won’t affect us. If everyone tried to ignore pandemics or other worldwide challenges, there would be no hope or chance of improvement,” Burns said. “It’s during times like these, when so many people are experiencing setbacks, that we need to set aside our differences and show some empathy.”

Fluchel believes it is important for students to think critically about the coronavirus.

“We are living history, always, but particularly in this moment. I think it’s essential for kids to think about what is happening right now and what their role in it all is,” Fluchel said. “I don’t believe it’s my role to ‘preach’ my values to kids but rather to encourage discourse that lets them think critically about the world in which we live and to discover how to positively impact it as well.”