Amid the thought of the fiery destruction that impended, the idea of the coolness of the well came over my soul like balm. I rushed to its deadly brink. I threw my straining vision below. The glare from the enkindled roof illumined its inmost recesses. Yet, for a wild moment, did my spirit refuse to comprehend the meaning of what I saw. At length it forced—it wrestled its way into my soul—it burned itself in upon my shuddering reason. O for a voice to speak!—oh, horror!—oh, any horror but this! With a shriek I rushed from the margin and buried my face in my hands—weeping bitterly.
Which word best describes the narrator in the passage above?
Edgar Allan Poe's short story The Pit and the Pendulum is a horror story. Its plot, its narration, and its context all lead to the inescapable conclusion that it is a horror story. Narrated by a victim of the Spanish Inquisition, who is being psychologically tortured while being forced to monitor the gradual process by which he will be cut in half by the sharp blade of the swinging pendulum, it would be pretty much impossible to conclude that the narrator's dominant emotion is anything other than "frightened." Poe's narrator is being subjected to a horrific form of execution and the historical context in which the story takes place, the Inquisition, does not (outside of a Monty Python skit) lend itself to much in the way of humor. Neither is the narrator "insensitive," as his emotions are on full display, as in the following passage:
"My eyes followed its outward or upward whirls with the eagerness of the most unmeaning despair; they closed themselves spasmodically at the descent, although death would have been a relief, oh, how unspeakable! Still I quivered in every nerve to think how slight a sinking of the machinery would precipitate that keen, glistening axe upon my bosom."
One could conceivably make the argument that Poe's narrator is "determined," in that he clearly hopes to somehow survive his ordeal, which he ultimately does. But the passage provided in the question, as well as the one offered above, clearly suggest a narrator experiencing enormous fright. Consequently, the word that best describes him is "frightened."