The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe

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Evaluate the last-minute arrival of General Lasalle in "The Pit and the Pendulum."

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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La Salle's perfect timing and arrival to save the hero in "The Pit and the Pendulum" is frequently referred to as a literary device known as "deus ex machina," which translates as 'god from the machine' which may sound a little confusing.  Simply put, 'deus ex machina' occurs in a story when some unexpected object, event, or character swoops in to save the hero at the last minute, usually from a circumstance in which he would have ordinarily been facing certain doom.  "The Pit and the Pendulum" is a perfect example of this; the narrator nearly died from a tragic fall into the pit, only to be saved by the outstretched arm of the French General La Salle.  While the last minute rescue of La Salle does temporarily relieve the reader that the narrator is no longer in mortal peril, such endings often prove less satisfactory than if the hero would have been able to extricate himself from the conflict based on his own wit, strength, merit, or ingenuity.

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favoritethings eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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This particular ending, having General Lasalle arrive at the eleventh hour to save the unnamed protagonist, feels like a bit of an easy way out, at least for Poe. The main character is just about to meet his end—uttering "one loud, long, and final scream of despair"—and he even turns his eyes away from the pit toward which he is being forced by the walls closing in. All at once, the walls return to their former places and a hand reaches out to grab the narrator's own as he falls into a faint. Poe is saved from having to kill off this character, but he is also prevented from having to come up with a way to have him save himself (or have his captors in the Inquisition suddenly relent and show mercy). This ending feels too convenient and well-timed to be realistic.

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