Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” is a short story that depicts the torture of an unnamed narrator after he is trialed and imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition
Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” is a short story that depicts the torture of an unnamed narrator after he is trialed and imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition. The narrator is thrown into an atrocious, hellish, underground torture chamber known as “Ultima Thule”. The “Ultima Thule” or “the pit” features various ways to torture and kill its captives. One method of torture noted in the story is the swift fall into a deep, dark hole that at its epicenter is filled with blood, rats and rotting remains, known as the abyss. The other method of torture is the slowly descending, oscillating scythe, positioned to saw its bounded victims in half known as the pendulum. The story identifies several elements of terror the Inquisition uses which keeps the narrator in a constant state of disorientation, panic, and isolation. The main elements that are used to create fear in the narrator are the intensity of crippling darkness, representations of time and death, and the despair of iron walls closing in.
Much of the narrator’s fear is a result of the use of darkness that engulfs him when he awakens. The narrator states, for example, “The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. I struggled for breath. The intensity of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me” (Poe 137). The narrator describes the darkness as a severe weight on his person to the point where he becomes breathless, gasping for air. These are clear indications and symptoms of a panic attack, a typical reaction when feeling a tremendous sense of terror or impending doom.
Another method of instilling fear into the narrator was the visual representation of death. Having failed to fall into the abyss the narrator was placed in a “milder” form of torture where he was bounded wooden frame. Upon the ceiling directly above him was the swinging, scythed, pendulum and with it. The narrator states “It was the painted figure of Time as he is commonly represented, save that in lieu of a scythe, he held that, at a casual glance. I supposed to be the pictured image of a huge pendulum such as we see on antique clocks.” One can safely assume that the figure of time or the end of time visually depicted traditionally as a skeleton figure illustrating the grim reaper. The scythe also ties in the idea of death for it is the grim reapers weapon of choice. The image and scythe is used to instill fear by communicating to the narrator that his fate is sealed, time has coming to an end and he will die soon.
The narrator’s quick wits prevailed when he used the smeared the meat over his bounds for the rats to in aid in his escape but alas there was no time to enjoy his fleeting freedom, for the walls began to close in. With the heated walls caving in he exclaimed that “I neither hoped nor desired it to stop. I could have clasped the red walls to my bosom as a garment of eternal peace. ‘Death’ I said, ‘any death but that of the pit!” (Poe 147). The narrator has reached a breaking point, this show that the pit is so terrifying that the narrator would rather die than to continue to be a victim of the pit.
The narrator had accomplished a great feat in facing the terrors of the pit, but despite his persistent efforts, fear, anxiety and isolation has placed afflictions upon the narrator’s senses and physique. One can clearly see that after enduring so much torture, frustration, agony and other elements of terror, his mental endurance had reached its breaking point. Hope has been replaced despair and only thoughts of death prevailed for that is the fate of all who enters the pit.