The Pit and the Pendulum By Edgar Allan Poe
Check Quiz • How does the narrator measure the circumference of his dungeon? Where does he go wrong with his calculations? • What are the types of death that victims of the Inquisition face? • What is the ultimate fate that the narrator wishes to avoid in the dungeon? Why does he dread it so? • Where does the narrator find himself when he awakens from his faint? • What is the second form of death with which the narrator is threatened? • How does he save himself from this death at the last moment? • What final torture do the Inquisitors inflict on the Narrator? • Do you find the end satisfying?
Edgar Allan Poe • Born in Boston on January 19, 1809 • Mother and father were both professional actors. • Both parents died before he was 3. Poe was raised in a foster home. • His foster father sent him to the best boarding schools and then to the University of Virginia but then he had to leave due to his foster father not being able to afford tuition due to his gambling debts. • Poe then enlisted in the military. After his military service he enrolled in the United States Military Academy, but had to dropout due to lack of financial support. • Poe then moved to moved into the home of his aunt, Mrs. Maria Clemm and her daughter Virginia, in Baltimore, Maryland. • Poe began to sell short stories to magazines at around this time, and, in 1835, he became the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond. He brought his aunt and twelve-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm, with him to Richmond. He married Virginia in 1836. • Over the next ten years, Poe would edit a number of literary journals including the Burton's Gentleman's Magazine and Graham's Magazine in Philadelphia and the Broadway Journal in New York City. It was during these years that he established himself as a poet, a short-story writer, and an editor. He published some of his best-known stories and poems including "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," and "The Raven." • After Virginia's death from tuberculosis in 1847, Poe's life-long struggle with depression and alcoholism worsened. There are conflicting stories as to whether Poe was actually an alcoholic or if he just had an incredible low tolerance for alcohol. • He returned briefly to Richmond in 1849 and then set out for an editing job in Philadelphia. For unknown reasons, he stopped in Baltimore. On October 3, 1849, he was found in a state of semi-consciousness. Poe died four days later of "acute congestion of the brain." Evidence by medical practitioners who re-opened the case has shown that Poe may have been suffering from Rabies. • Poe's work as an editor, a poet, and a critic had a profound impact on American and international literature. His stories mark him as one of the originators of both horror and detective fiction. Many anthologies credit him as the "architect" of the modern short story. He was also one of the first critics to focus primarily on the effect of the style and of the structure in a literary work; as such, he has been seen as a forerunner to the "art for art's sake" movement. Today, Poe is remembered as one of the first American writers to become a major figure in world literature.
Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition • Setting: The Spanish Inquisition • 1 of 3 official Inquisitions in Europe starting in 1231. • The Spanish Inquisition began in 1478. • It lasted the longest and was the most brutal. • Known as The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, it wasestablished in 1480 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval Inquisition which was under Papal control. • Agents of the Inquisitors were exempt from official jurisdiction. They served as body guards and informers to the inquisitors. • The Inquisitors and their agents help secret proceedings. • They used torture to excessive extents. • The accused lacked council and everyone was afraid to defend them and risk being accused themselves. • Those condemned had their property confiscated which was then divided amongst the Inquisitors, the accusers, and the Crown. • The Expulsion of Jews in 1492—during this 300,000 Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism in Spain. During the reign of the Catholic monarchs several thousand Conversos, converted Jews; many of them members of the educated upper-class, were accused, condemned, and burned for Judaizing practices. Many thousands more escaped only by fleeing the country.
Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition • Targets: The Spanish Inquisition was impelled by an obsession with “purity of blood,” which especially characterized the Spaniards in the 16th and 17th centuries. If one could prove one’s ancestry as “pure” then that person was exempt from the Inquisitors. This was divisive of Spanish society. What was a pretense to have values of “pure” ancestry, religious commitment, and personal integrity was a very corrupt organization based on the practice of spying and denouncing one’s neighbors and friends. • Various motives have been proposed for the monarchs' decision to fund the Inquisition such as increasing political authority, weakening opposition, suppressing conversos, profiting from confiscation of the property of convicted heretics, reducing social tensions and protecting the kingdom from the danger of a fifth column. • This story takes place in Toledo, Spain in the 16th century. • In the early 1800’s France succeeded in suppressing the Spanish Inquisition.
The Pit and the Pendulum • First published in 1842 • Poe makes no attempt to describe accurately the operations of the Spanish Inquisition, and takes considerable dramatic license with the broader history premised in this story. The rescuers are led by Napoleon's General LaSalle(who was not, however, in command of the French occupation of Toledo) and this places the action during the Peninsular War, centuries after the height of the Spanish Inquisition and at a time when it had lost much of its power. The elaborate tortures of this story have no historic parallels in the activity of the Spanish Inquisition in any century, let alone the nineteenth. The Inquisition was, however, abolished during the period of French intervention (1808–13). • Poe places a Latin epigraph before the story, describing it as "a quatrain composed for the gates of a market to be erected upon the site of the Jacobin Club House at Paris". The epigraph was not Poe's invention; such an inscription had been reported, no later than 1803, as having been composed with the intention (possibly facetious) of having it placed on the site, and it had appeared, without attribution, as an item of trivia in the 1836 Southern Literary Messenger, a periodical to which Poe contributed. It does not appear, however, that the market was ever built as intended. Charles Baudelaire, a noted French writer who translated Poe's works into French and who was largely inspired by him, said that the building on the site of the Old Jacobin Club had no gates and, therefore, no inscription. • Poe was following an established model of terror writing of his day, often seen in Blackwood's Magazine (a formula he mocks in "A Predicament"). Those stories, however, often focused on chance occurrences or personal vengeance as a source of terror. Poe may have been inspired to focus on the purposeful impersonal torture in part by Juan Antonio Llorente'sHistory of the Spanish Inquisition, first published in 1817.
The Latin Quatrain? • According to the Edgar Allen Poe Society of Baltimore, this Latin quatrain is on unknown origin, although Poe used it in another of his works. In fact, according to contemporary sources, the market erected on the site of the Jacobin Club House in Paris did not have gates. This quotation is nonetheless appropriate to the story. The Jacobins were instruments of Robespierre's Reign of Terror, just as the inquisitors were tools of the Inquisitions. Much innocent blood was spilled during these two cataclysmic periods, and Poe expresses satisfaction that life and security have replaced the evil that had controlled society during those eras.
“The Pit and the Pendulum • The narrator plunges directly into a traumatic event that is in the process of unfolding, as if the reader has opened the book in the middle of the story. This is known as in medias res—into the middle of a sequence of events. • The inquisitors are directly characterized as ghoulish by the narrator’s nightmarish perceptions—black robed, pale faced, extremely thin, and with expressions of determined cruelty and disregard for human suffering. The stark black and white color scheme creates a powerful visual image. Moreover, their “stern contempt for human torture” foreshadows the events to come. • Exposition: The narrator is a prisoner who has just been sentenced at an inquisitorial trail. Delirious with weakness, fatigue, and shock, he has a rather distorted perception of his surrounding and an almost objective, detached view of the proceedings that seal his fate.
“The Pit and the Pendulum” • pp. 25 Simile: The narrator compares a sudden sweet thought to a rich, musical note. • pp. 25 The paragraph discussion the subconscious world and its physical counterpart, as well as the almost lyrical descriptions of memory, dreams, and madness, gives the reader an insight into Poe’s tortured psyche and the fantasies that plagued him during his unhappy life. • pp. 26 Summarize the narrator’s experience to this point: Fully conscious now, the narrator attempts to reconstruct the events of this terrible day; he remembers the horrible trial, the sentencing, and fainting afterwards, but is he mercifully confused about the descent into the dungeon in which he is presently trapped. • pp. 27 Tactile imagery: the reader can feel the smooth, cold, slimy stone.
“The Pit and the Pendulum” • pp. 28 What doe we know of the narrator’s physical and mental condition so far? • The narrator is physically weak and exhausted from his ordeal; nevertheless, despite his condition and the duress, he is apparently clever and resourceful—qualities that will stand him in good stead. • pp. 30 Here, the words “charnel superstition” refer to the death-related rumors about the monks. The horrific devices of torture on the walls have given rise to ghastly superstations that surround these dungeons. • The sadism of the torturers extends to every aspect of the victim’s experience. The horrifying aspect of the walls, his immobilization on the wooden platform, and the deliberate stimulation of a thirst that cannot be quenched, all contribute to the torture in various ways. None of these tortures is fatal, so that he is left alive to endure more torment. This is the “hideous moral horror” mentioned earlier. • pp. 31 Remember the hint at the beginning of the story about “… a later day”: If we can understand this to mean that the narrator survives this ordeal, what are some possible methods or means of escape from what papers to be a fatal situation? • pp. 33 The detailed description allows the reader to practically feel the vibrations as well as the narrator’s terror. • Climax: pp. 34 the narrator has narrowly avoided death by the pendulum blade.
Questions to Consider • What is the significance of the Latin quatrain? • What is the effect of the first person point of view? • What do we infer from the exposition? • How does one bridge the gulf of which Poe speaks? • What does the narrator struggle to remember? • Why does the narrator feel he has gone mad? • What has happened to the narrator? Is he conscious? • Why does the narrator desire a relapse into unconsciousness? • What can we infer about the narrator’s future? • What is the rising action? • What are his worst fears? How are they confirmed?
Questions to Consider • What clues help the narrator determine his whereabouts and his fate? • Why is he so distraught in the dungeon? • What does he consider to be “the most hideous of fates?” • What does the narrator believe will happen to him? • What is the significance of “certain antique narratives?” • What does he do to help him measure the dungeon? • What do we infer from “this circumstance”? • How has the narrator arrived at his calculated circumference of 50 yards? • What sensory images are produced by the words, “clammy vapor” and “smell of decayed fungus?” • What does he hope to accomplish by dropping the stone into the pit? • What is the significance of the sudden flash of light? • How has the narrator’s traumatic experience effected him? • Why have the inquisitors drugged the narrator?
Questions to Consider • Why does the narrator busy himself with the size of his dungeon? • How did the narrator miscalculate the circumference of the dungeon? • What shape did the narrator believe the dungeon to be? What shape is it actually? • What is the actual appearance of the walls of the dungeon? How do they differ from what the narrator imagined in the darkness? • Why is the metaphor of jaws appropriate? • What attracts the narrator’s attention? • What do you think is the significance of the pendulum? • What has attracted the rats? Is it possible that they might be of help to the narrator? • What horrible conclusions can the narrator draw from what he observes?
Questions to Consider • Explain the verbal irony in the word milder on pp. 31: • How does the author heighten the suspense? • Why does the narrator pray for the blade to descend faster? • Why does the narrator smile calmly at the pendulum? • Who are the daemon's who might temporarily stop the pendulum? • What has suddenly gives the narrator new hope? • What will happen as the pendulum makes contact with the narrator? • Why is the narrator unable to formulate his idea clearly? • Earlier, the narrator had an idea connected someone to his food. What might it be? • What are they most likely accustomed to eating in the well? • How does the narrator get the rats to prey upon him? • What do the rats accomplish? • How does the pendulum cause the narrator pain? • Do you think his ordeal is over yet? • What literary device is used on pp. 35 • What has the narrator noticed about the source of the light in the cell?
Questions to Consider • What has happened to the horrible portraits on the walls? • How does Poe increase suspense? • Why does the narrator run to the brink of the well? • How does the dungeon change its shape? • What is the narrator being forced to do?