Explain the dark romanticism in "The Pit and the Pendulum."Elaborate on the torture devices in "The Pit and the Pendulum."

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Edgar Allan Poe was a Dark Romantic writer who wanted to leave behind what was rational and tangible in the world to discover the unsettling truth that lies in the dark, irrational depths of the human mind. In the short story entitled "The Pit and the Pendulum," there is an emphasis on punishment, horror, darkness, and the psychological effects of uncontrollable irrationality and fear, the inscrutable, and evil as a destructive force.

The narrator has been condemned by the Spanish Inquisition, and he finds himself in variable states of consciousness, declaring that he is "sick—sick unto death with that long agony." He also seems hallucinatory as he describes the inquisitional voices as a "dreamy indeterminate hum." He first imagines "angel forms" that later become "meaningless specters with heads of flame" as he has a transcendent experience. Further, he slips in and out of consciousness, and as he recovers somewhat, he senses that walls enclose him. Having put a piece of his robe at the beginning of where he starts, the prisoner walks around the walls. Then, he decides to cross the area, but when the remnant of his robe trips him, he finds that part of his face does not touch the floor; he has fallen at the edge of a pit. He realizes that if he were to have fallen, he would most likely break bones, but not die—"the sudden extinction of life formed no part of their most horrible plan." 

Later, after the narrator awakens from his exhaustion, he finds himself strapped to a wooden frame. All that he can move are his head and his left arm with which he is able to feed himself. Although the food is heavily spiced, there is no water for the prisoner. When he looks up, the prisoner sees a giant pendulum that swings down over him. At the same time, he notices rats scurrying about the floor, attracted by the scent of the meat he has been given. Soon, too, he sees that the pendulum is moving closer to him and its movement has increased. "Like a razor, also, massive and heavy. . . . " this moving blade causes the narrator to sense the "grotesquerie of this dungeon." The prisoner spends hours in horror of the death that awaits him. At the same time, he feels hunger and reaches for the remnants of his meal. In a moment of clear thinking, the narrator realizes that the pendulum's crescent will strike across his heart. For a time, he waits, horrified. But, then an idea comes to him: he can entice the rats to chew the bindings that hold him by putting the remnants of the meat they have eaten on these ties. The rats soon rush onto him, and his ropes are broken.

Now, the walls seem on fire, and they close in on the prisoner. He feels moved closer and closer to the pit. "I felt that I tottered on the brink," he says. With agony, he utters a cry of desperation when, suddenly, he hears the sounds of trumpets. "The fiery walls rushed back" and an arm pulls him back from the abyss. "The French army had entered Toledo. The Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies."

slchanmo1885 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Writings characterized as Dark Romanticism often portray images of evil such as Satan, ghosts, goblins, etc. Elements of the supernatural and a dark view of nature are also key characteristics. The psychology of man is often explored, especially a self-destructive mind. Poe's work, "The Pit and the Pendulum" uses these characteristics to give the work a very dark and horrific mood.

The torture begins with darkness, and the narrator doesn't know where he is or what will happen to him. This darkness plays with his mind and his mental faculties. When the light reappears, the narrator is on the edge of a deep pit and the walls are painted with terrible images, of devils and skeletons. He is tied down and the sharp edge of a pendulum swings towards him, coming closer with every stroke. He manages to narrowly escape the pendulum, but the walls heat up and begin to close. Several times throughout the story the narrator has the choice of jumping into the pit and succumbing to death that way, but he goes back and forth and never makes up his mind, and it seems as though this choice leads him to a more horrific death. However, there is respite at the end of the story.

Read the study guide:
The Pit and the Pendulum

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question