The Pit And The Pendulum: Short Story


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Publication: The Pit and the Pendulum and Other Stories

However, the Inquisition degenerated into an excuse for those in power to persecute their enemies, as was the case with the prisoner in this tale. Poe himself considered it to be one of his finest works. Why, or why not? As soon as he does, the pendulum is retracted to the top of the ceiling, proving to the narrator the closeness with which he is watched. He realizes quickly that something has changed in his prison and finds the source of the cell's light at a fissure at the base of the walls.

An outside fire is heating his chamber, and the narrator rushes to the edge of the pit, weighing the cool water of the pit against the growing heat of the prison cell. He leaves the edge in a fit of tears. The cell heats up further and begins to flatten into a narrowing diamond so that the narrator will eventually be forced into the pit.

The narrator clings to the heated walls but is ultimately forced to the brink of the pit and screams in despair. As he is about to fall in, however, he hears voices and trumpets as the walls return suddenly to their normal shape. Having just led the French army into Toledo and beaten back the forces of the Inquisition, General Lasalle rushes in and catches the fainting narrator by the arm before he falls into the pit.

The ordeal is over. One notable aspect of Edgar Allan Poe 's prose is his consistent use of detailed description, and he uses this tendency to great effect in his short story "The Pit and the Pendulum. Although the narrator is, like most of Poe's first-person protagonists, somewhat unreliable in nature, his unreliability is circumstantial, stemming from his fear and physical weakness rather than from guilt or inherent madness.

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However, because the narrator is very much aware of his unreliability and emphasizes it to us in a way that the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart" would not, he paradoxically gives us the sense that he is not trying to deceive. The sense of emotional honesty conveyed by the narrator leads to a sense of increased immediacy in the story and intensity of the mood. Despite the lurid descriptions and the account of a relatively reliable narrator, Poe excludes certain details that heighten the suspense of the story.

Just as he carefully tracks the psychological wanderings of the narrator, the author does not describe the wrongdoing of the narrator or the details of his arrest and later of his salvation. This omission of the facts has two major effects on the reader. First, it leads us to identify strongly with the narrator's confusion and fear of the unknown.

In the story “William Wilson,” the character known as The Other is

One of the main sources of the protagonist's terror is that he either knows nothing about what will happen to him or knows the exact nature of his fate but cannot do anything with his knowledge. Poe exploits the theme of the fear of the unknown by connecting it to the fear of the dark at the beginning of the narrator's ordeal and to the fear of being helpless, as in the latter half of the story.

The second effect of our lack of information concerning the narrator's trial and sentencing is that we cannot ascertain his level of guilt or innocence. Part of the effect of the story is dependent on an assumption of the prisoner's relative innocence, particularly in the context of the cruelty of the Inquisition. The narrator's rescue from the Spanish Inquisitors by the French General Lasalle at the end of the story suggests that he may be a political victim driven to his doom as a result of worldly conflicts rather than sin, particularly since he was saved by the general himself rather than by a lesser soldier.

In addition, the protagonist's oversensitivity and tendency towards introspection contribute to making him a sympathetic victim rather than a deserving prisoner. Completing the atmosphere of terror in "The Pit and the Pendulum" is the use of nightmarish imagery. At the beginning of the tale, the narrator describes the "seven tall candles" that at first remind him of angels but then turn into "meaningless spectres, with heads of flame.

The Pit And The Pendulum Summary & Analysis

Poe's Biblical allusion to the Apocalypse is related to the protagonist's constant sense of impending doom, as he is left with fewer and fewer choices other than death. The most curious aspect of "The Pit and the Pendulum" - an aspect that sets this story apart from most of Poe's writings - is that the prisoner is abruptly and inexplicably saved from doom in the last paragraph, which is in line with the narrator's focus on hope.

The narrator gradually realizes that the pendulum is not painted but real and is slowly descending, coming increasingly close to him. He later realizes that the edge of the pendulum is made of sharp metal. This method of execution is purposefully slow. It takes several days for the pendulum to get close enough for the narrator to smell its metal.

He then realizes that his death will be further prolonged because the pendulum will need to cut the thick cloth of his robe before it can slices into his flesh above his heart. When the pendulum is almost upon him, the narrator comes up with an escape plan.


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He lies perfectly still, which causes vast numbers of rats to climb up upon him. The rats bite into the straps which are holding him down, allowing him to get off the table. The pendulum moves up to the ceiling again.

Publication: The Pit and the Pendulum and Other Stories

The narrator realizes that he is being constantly watched and that for every form of execution that he escapes, another will be prepared. The cell's metal walls begin to heat up. The narrator begins to think of plunging into the pit to cool down but resists the thought. The hot walls then begin to close in, forcing him ever nearer to the edge of the pit.

Just as he is about to fall into the pit, someone helps the narrator up. The person who has come to his aid is a French general.

Primary Verifications

Toledo has been invaded and the Inquisition have lost their power. Films based on "The Pit and the Pendulum" have been produced in France , Czechoslovakia and the United States , , , and The best known movie adaptation continues to be the American film, set in 16th century Spain, directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price and Barbara Steele. The plot, in which an Englishman comes to Spain to investigate the sudden death of his sister, has very little to do with Poe's story.

The deadly pendulum only appears in the final ten minutes of the movie, in which the Englishman is tortured by his mad brother-in-law, who believs himself to be his own ancestor, one of the officials of the Spanish Inquisition.

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