The Pit and the Pendulum By Edgar Allan Poe
The Pit and the Pendulum • Everybody has bad dreams. Horrible things move towards you in the dark, things you can hear but not see. Then you wake up, in your own warm bed, and turn over to go back to sleep.
The Pit and the Pendulum • But imagine that you wake up on a hard floor, in a darkness blacker than the blackest night. You listen to the silence, and smell a wet dead smell. Death is all around you, waiting . . .
Setting • The action takes place in the city of Toledo in central Spain. When the Romans conquered the site in 193 B.C., they named the settlement there Toletum, from which the name Toledo was derived. • Toletum meant "raised high" or "raised aloft," because the settlement sat on a rocky promontory about 2,400 feet above sea level. • It became an important cultural center and was famous for the skill with which its artisans produced swords. • Toledo is about 40 miles southwest of Madrid.
Characters • Narrator- an unnamed person who tells of the torture inflicted on him by the Spanish Inquisition. He identifies himself as a recusant (one who refuses to conform to established rules and refuses to yield to the established authority). • General Lasalle- a French army officer • Inquisitors- black-robed judges who sentence the narrator. The narrator hears their voices and sees blurred images of them.
Story Structure • "The Pit and the Pendulum" is a short story about the horrors of undergoing torture. Poe completed it in August 1842 and published it the following year. • It is written in first-person point of view.
The Inquisition • The word inquisition is derived from the Latin word inquiro, meaning to question or to inquire into. The Roman Catholic Church under Pope Gregory IX established the Inquisition in 1231 to combat heresy–any belief or opinion that opposed or rejected church doctrine, dogma, or other important teachings. • At that time, Roman Catholicism was the official state religion in Europe. Opposition to church teaching was looked upon as a threat to the established order.
The Inquisition • Accused heretics received an opportunity to renounce their dissenting beliefs. If they did not, the Inquisition tried them. • The guilty received sentences ranging from mild (such as recitation of prayers) to severe (such as public execution).
The Spanish Inquisition • The Spanish government used its newly authorized power to intimidate or eliminate its political opponents, as well as to identify and punish religious dissenters. • Government-approved inquisitors conducted unfair trials and sometimes resorted to torture to extract confessions of heresy.
The Spanish Inquisition • The Pope attempted to curb the power of the Spanish Inquisition but failed. Those found guilty sometimes had to forfeit their property to the crown; not a few had to forfeit their lives. • The Spanish Inquisition maintained 19 courts–16 in Spain and three in the New World (in Mexico, Peru, and Colombia).