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The Pit and the Pendulum | Study Guide

Edgar Allan Poe

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The Pit and the Pendulum | Quotes


I was sick—sick unto death with that long agony.


The first line of the story indicates that the narrator almost welcomes imprisonment as an escape from the agony of what he has already suffered—presumably his capture, interrogation, torture, trial, and sentencing.


Then silence, and stillness, and night were the universe.


The narrator goes into a swoon—a state of unconsciousness—after his sentencing, which proves to be a foretaste of the conditions in his cell, where he will awaken in pitch blackness.


In the deepest slumber ... even in the grave all is not lost!


The narrator retains memories of what happened to him while in a swoon and finds in this an affirmation of life after death.


I felt nothing; yet dreaded to move a step, lest I should be impeded by the walls of a tomb.


When the narrator wakes up and opens his eyes in utter blackness, the complete darkness makes him fear he has been buried alive in a tomb. This was a common worry in Poe's day. Poe explores the effects of terror on the narrator; one of these is his inability to move lest he find his fears are justified. Once he becomes brave enough to start exploring, though, he is initially relieved to realize he is in quite a large space.


The mode and the hour were all that occupied or distracted me.


The narrator knows he has been condemned to die but suffers from the terror of not knowing how it will happen. He had expected a public burning, but he is subjected to much less straightforward possibilities in his prison cell.


And the death just avoided, was of that very character which I had regarded as fabulous and frivolous in the tales respecting the Inquisition.


Death by the pit is something that the narrator has heard in rumors of the Inquisition, but he did not believe it before accidentally discovering the pit himself. However, if it weren't for his rescue at the final instant, the pit would certainly have been his fate.


Neither could I forget what I had read of these pits—that the sudden extinction of life formed no part of their most horrible plan.


The idea of falling into the pit and not dying immediately terrifies the narrator. Although he drops in a bit of masonry and hears it hit the wall and then splash, he can't really know what fate lurks in the darkness below. Imagining that fate increases his terror of it.


What mainly disturbed me was the idea that it had perceptibly descended.


After first seeing the pendulum, the narrator looks away, but when he looks back he realizes it is coming closer to him. This makes him examine the pendulum and realize it is meant to slice him in two.


Long suffering had nearly annihilated all my ordinary powers of mind. I was an imbecile—an idiot.


The moment he comes up with a hopeful idea, the narrator finds himself unable to retain that thought because his mind has been so weakened by all the suffering he has undergone. This is part of Poe's exploration of the effects of terror on reason and how it can lead to madness.


To the right—to the left—far and wide—with the shriek of a damned spirit; to my heart with the stealthy pace of the tiger!


The narrator is watching the pendulum swing widely over him, descending very slowly. In his terror he is unable to think of anything but the pendulum's movement. Although he knows it is mechanical, he imagines it has a purpose, like a tiger stalking its prey before killing it.


For the first time during many hours—or perhaps days—I thought.


Here Poe again examines the psychology of terror. With the pendulum nearing his chest, the narrator finally accepts the inevitable and, in the absence of panic, is suddenly able to think clearly. As a result he remembers a half-formed plan of escape, which he successfully implements.


Free!—I had but escaped death in one form of agony, to be delivered unto worse than death in some other.


Having escaped the pendulum, the narrator realizes that the inquisitorial agents must have another plan to torture him. He realizes he has been observed and that each escape leads to a new and more terrifying attempt on his life. This third attempt cannot help but succeed. With the burning hot walls closing on him, he will finally be driven into the pit. This time it will be impossible for him to save himself.


Demon eyes, of a wild and ghastly vivacity, glared upon me in a thousand directions, where none had been visible before, and gleamed with the lurid lustre of a fire that I could not force my imagination to regard as unreal.


The narrator imagines that the eyes of the figures on the wall gleam at him with demonic fire. The moment foreshadows his inevitable third exposure to death.


As before, it was in vain that I, at first, endeavoured to appreciate or understand what was taking place.


The narrator once again slips into a state in which he can only wonder what is happening. He is not allowed to remain in this state for long, however, as he is forced to realize that he is being pushed toward the pit.


I struggled no more, but the agony of my soul found vent in one loud, long, and final scream of despair.


The narrator succumbs to the inevitability of his death in the pit—at the moment before his miraculous rescue.

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