“The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe is a short story of horror that uses detailed sensory imagery in order to instill fear and horror in the reader. The story delves into the very basic human fear of torture, and because of the time period in which it takes place (the Spanish Inquisition), it is also a fear of torture due to religious intolerance.
Poe uses the classic characteristics of his usual Gothic genre flair, including a bleak location, an impending threat of violence, a character in physical and psychological torment, and a seemingly otherworldly element in charge of the plot. These elements combined with the characters’ realization of his impending doom by either a razor-sharp pendulum or a cavernous abyss create yet another Poe-ian world of despair, fear, and a yearn for redemption. Poe explores various themes along the way, including fear, intolerance and injustice, and the power of despair.
The Spanish Inquisition began under King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I of Spain in 1478. It was meant as a continuance of the Medieval Inquisition, and it lasted in various forms until 1834. The purpose of the Inquisition was to determine the authenticity of Jews and Muslims who had converted to Christianity—in other words, it was to ensure that they really did become Christians, and not just to avoid expulsion from Spain. It quickly became a weapon for monarchs to use against political enemies, much like the Salem Witch trials in the 1690s and the McCarthy trials of the 1950s. It is important to note that while Pope Sixtus IV approved the process, he did so with many misgivings. However, he needed the Spanish military power at the time to protect Rome from the Turks.
Some of the consequences of the Spanish Inquisition included:
For more information on the Spanish Inquisition, have students visit https://www.donquijote.org/culture/spain/history/spanish-inquisition and https://history.howstuffworks.com/historical-figures/spanish-inquisition.htm