The Pendulum: You Can’T Escape Death Essay, Research Paper
In the Story The Pit and the Pendulum, the narrator explains that he has been sentenced to death by the Inquisition (the institutionalized persecution of all Protestants and heretical Catholics by the Catholic government in 15th- and 16th-century Spain). The reader however must not get Poe confused with the narrator because the narrator is the one telling the story while Poe is the author of the story. The narrator starts his story by saying he is sick unto death (180). The narrator here is trying to suggest that this sickness is the normal position of a human being; everyone is mortal. He recognizes this in the beginning. “The Pit and the Pendulum” is a story of torture. The punishments that the narrator is about to receive illustrate the power of humans to inflict pain and suffering on others. In addition, though, this story shows that the worst kind of torture is that of uncertainty and fear. Once the narrator understands that he will die from falling into the pit, it is no longer as cruel a punishment as the Inquisitors want to give him. Therefore, each punishment entails some element of pain, but, more importantly, a great deal of mental anguish before death.
Unsurprisingly, the narrator finds comfort in trying to understand his environment and fate. He measures the room carefully because he wants to make sense out of his situation in order to ease his mind. His captivity is unpredictable and he never knows what is going and is totally unaware of his surroundings. However, he knows sooner or later that he is going to die. Upon receiving his death sentence, the narrator loses consciousness. When he awakes, he is in complete darkness. He is confused because he knows that the usual fate of Inquisition victims is a public “act of faith”–an execution normally taking the form of a hanging (183). He is afraid that he has been trapped in a tomb, but he gets up and walks a few paces, which makes him think that he is not in a tomb but perhaps in one of the dungeons at Toledo (the inquisitor’s prison). He decides to explore.
However, he soon stumbles and collapses to the ground, where he falls asleep. Upon waking, the narrator finds a portion of water and bread, which he consumes. Then he resumes his tour of the prison, and notices that although most of his body has fallen on solid ground, most of his face is dangling. He realizes that in the center of the prison there is a circular pit. The narrator falls asleep again and wakes up to more water and bread. He imagines that he must have been drugged by the water because he immediately falls asleep after drinking. When he wakes up the next time, the prison is dimly lit. Here on the narrator goes into repeated lapses of unconsciousness. The light allowed him to clarify his understanding of the shape of his cell. The walls were not as he imagined, but were carved with designs of fiends and hideous depictions of the punishments of hell. There were not many pits but only one in the middle of the room.
To find the depth of the pit, the narrator breaks a stone off of the wall of the pit and throws it in, listening to it fall. The pit is deep with water at the bottom. The narrator decides that the inquisitors must have left him to fall into the pit. The victim’s greatest fear was not that he would see hideous forms or the henchmen of the Inquisition but that there would be nothing to see at all. His fears are confirmed. He sat in darkness. In that darkness, reason came to birth. At first, as a distraction from the utter emptiness, later as a means of survival, eventually, a prevention against insanity. Thought was not confined to remembering where he was and how he had arrived there. It took a pernicious turn down the by-ways of paranoia. Many stories of torture, like this one, set up a stage upon which the prisoner painted his future fate. As aforementioned in the beginning of the story where he was sick unto death.
The narrator’s situation has changed somewhat. A visual image distracted him. Far above his bound body, on the ceiling of the chamber, was the figure of Time holding what first appeared to be his traditional scythe. Upon closer contemplation, the prisoner perceived that the painting is no mere symbol – it was an animated instrument of torture, a razor sharp pendulum. At first, he doesn’t comprehend his peril, thinking that the motion was meant only to mesmerize or distract him. As were so many of the other depictions around the prison. He looked around seeking other objects to focus his attention on.
He was given salty meat which attracted a horde of rats and also made him thirsty. However he was given no more water. This her to though was a sign of diversion, or maybe just a sheer reminder of death. This diversion allowed him the partial success of scaring them away with his one mobile arm. After hours of dissuading the rats in such a manner, he cast his eyes upward and recognized that the pendulum descended, almost imperceptibly, but enough to convince him that it would be lowered incrementally towards his immovable body. Fear and stress caused him to pass out. Upon wakening, he became aware that the pendulum had not shifted position while he was asleep but resumed its careening motion only as he became conscious of it. Undoubtedly, the pendulum was in strict control of those who controlled him.
When he awakes, the pendulum starts descending slowly again. It is swinging in a trajectory directly over his heart. Even though he knows that this is a dire situation, the narrator remains hopeful. When the pendulum gets very close to him, he gets an idea. He rubs the food from his plate all over the strap that is holding him to the wooden board. The rats climb on top of him and chew through the strap. As the pendulum lowers, then, the narrator just escapes from its swing. When he gets up, the pendulum retracts to the ceiling. The narrator realizes that people must be watching him all the time.
He played the childish game of trying to still the steel through the power of his will. Perhaps if he concentrated enough on the blade, he could arrest its descent. Anticipation of the climax, where the edge of the steel slashed the cloth of his garments, scared and yet thrilled him. He disassociated himself from the descending blade, imagining it to be a shiny bauble viewed from the crib of an innocent; the next moment he arched his body, lurching upward, yearning to conclude the excruciating torment. Feeling, hearing and sensing his end come closer, the victim suddenly was thrust back to reasoning, to thinking on that half formed hope that was interrupted.
His torture was a constant reminder that he could not escape death. He could not get out of that pit, yet he pays close attention to his own consciousness. His mind plays tricks on him because of his fear of dying. In many occasions the narrator prayed for salvation, for someone to help him. Prayer was a common thing in these captivity narratives. Most prisoners just hoped for their savior to rescue them. I prayed- I wearied heavenly with my prayer for it’s speedy descent (189). The Pit’s meaning I believe is that the story’s strength and uniqueness lie in the strong connection between our physical perceptions and our spiritual progress during times of tension or stress.
As the walls of the prison heat up and begin moving in toward the center of the room. The narrator realizes that he will be forced into the central pit by the advancing walls. Just as there is only an inch or so of floor left for him to stand on, the walls suddenly retract and cool down, but the narrator in his fear has begun to faint into the pit. He realizes that no matter what he does he will not be able to escape death. It is inevitable. However, as he falls some one catches him: it is a French general, whose army has taken over the prison and stopped the Inquisition. The angels, his hope of salvation, became mute, immobile objects whose sole function enlightened the hideous proceedings against him.
This tale is not only about torture, though. It is about hope as well. Despite the terrible odds against the narrator, he remains optimistic throughout the story. And ultimately his hope is warranted–he escapes from his horrific predicament. Of course, the reader cannot completely trust this narrator. After all, he is writing the story after he has already escaped. Therefore, he knows retrospectively what is going to happen and may be exaggerating his hopefulness.
This story is also a comment on persecution. The narrator has been sentenced to death by the Inquisitors. Was it his prayer that made the French general save him? Since the French General saves the narrator of “The Pit and the Pendulum,” Poe could be remarking that no one is ever entirely in the right or entirely in the wrong. Rather, every nationality and every person is capable of good and evil. This idea is also emphasized in the description of the candles in the room of the Inquisitors: first they look like angels, then like devils, even though they are not actually changing shape.
Torture brings about fear and anticipation. The narrator in this story was constantly reminded of death. He was not tormented by people or the judges that sentenced him, rather he was tormented in his own mind ad thoughts. He knew, before he received his sentence, that death awaited him. He did not stand still, and he knew he could not save himself from death or escape it. The narrator did not save himself, someone else did.
The Pit and the Pendulum.Poe,Edgar Allen