Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in The Pit and the Pendulum

Updated: 1/29/2020
Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in The Pit and the Pendulum
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The Pit and the Pendulum Lesson Plans

The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe

Lesson Plans by Kristy Littlehale

“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

Storyboard Description

The Pit and the Pendulum Themes, Symbols, and Motifs Edgar Allan Poe

Storyboard Text

  • The Chamber is an instrument of fear. It makes use of complete and disorienting darkness, then mysterious glowing, with pictures of horrifying creatures on the walls to wreak psychological havoc on the narrator. The walls become the instrument of certain death, pushing the narrator towards the pit after he escapes from the pendulum.
  • The pendulum swings like a grandfather clock. Each moment it swings, the narrator is confronted with the terrifying reality that it’s getting closer and is razor sharp. The pendulum is part of this “just” sentence issued by the inquisitors, but is an instrument of psychological torture. It creates the idea of a game: the narrator has so much time to formulate an escape, or he loses.
  • The pit is the narrator’s first close call with death. The pit becomes his final choice as he is pushed towards it by the enclosing chamber walls which are burning fire-hot. The narrator knows that the pit means certain death for him, and he screams in despair as he finds he has run out of options.