“The Pit and the Pendulum” 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. 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 in “The Pit and the Pendulum” along the way, including fear, intolerance and injustice, and the power of despair.
The Pit and the Pendulum Summary - The Pit and the Pendulum Plot Diagram
The narrator is standing on trial and receiving a sentence of death. He does not reveal the crimes for which he has been charged and found guilty. He sees black-robed judges issuing their judgment before he passes out.
The narrator is in and out of consciousness, but presently finds himself in a chamber of some sort. It is at first pitch-black so he is disoriented and unable to get a grasp of his surroundings. He does not know where he is, nor why he is there, although he is sure is related to his punishment. He supposes that he is in a dungeon in Toledo, Spain.
The narrator tries to explore the depths of his chamber, and almost slips and falls into a chasm at one end of the chamber. After falling asleep, the narrator awakens to find bread and water next to him, so he knows someone is attending to him. After falling asleep again, the narrator awakens and the chamber is lightly glowing. He sees that it is square, and the metal walls have hideous faces in them.
The narrator finds himself strapped to a board, leaving only his head and left arm free. He looks up and sees a figure of Time painted on the ceiling, but instead of his scythe, he is holding a razor-sharp pendulum. The pendulum swings back and forth, and which each vibration, comes closer to the strapped narrator’s chest. He realizes that the pendulum will eventually kill him.
The narrator almost accepts his inevitable death when he gets an idea to take the fragrant meat from the basket next to him, and to rub it all over the strap holding him down. The rats, attracted by the smell of the meat, jump up and gnaw at the strap until the narrator is free. As soon as he is freed, however, the walls of the chamber begin to move and become hot, so that they push him towards the chasm.
As the narrator again is faced with impending death, he screams in despair. Just as the walls are about to push him over the edge, he hears thundering trumpets. The walls retract, and he is saved by General Lasalle, who is leading the French troops into Toledo.