How does the beginning of "The Pit and the Pendulum" contribute to the meaning of the story?

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The opening of "The Pit and the Pendulum" sets the scene for what's to come later. There's something both surreal and yet at the same time, hyper real, about the fate that has befallen the narrator. He's aware, terrifyingly so, that he's been sentenced to a cruel and painful death. But it's all too much for him to take in; the sheer horrific magnitude of what awaits him overwhelms his senses and his reason. In the opening lines of the story, we are being introduced to both natural and supernatural elements, which will remain in constant tension throughout the rest of the tale. The narrator's fainting places him in a disorientated, almost purgatorial state, caught between life and death, dream and sleep, without knowing exactly where he is and what's really happening. And it's this stark evocation of the unknown, so artfully contrived by Poe in the opening of "The Pit and the Pendulum" that adds to the sense of terror and foreboding that characterizes the remainder of the story, making it all the more eerily effective.

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The opening scene of Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" unfolds in a surreal fever dream. The masterful first sentence tells the reader a great deal of back-story with great economy.

"I was sick - sick unto death with that long agony; and when they at length unbound me, and I was permitted to sit, I felt that my senses were leaving me."

The unnamed narrator had been tortured to the point of being disassociated from himself - as if he sees himself within a vivid and horrible movie. His description of the black robed judges, their thin white lips speaking yet he hears nothing, the tall flickering candles at first seeming like angels to him, confirm that he is on the edge of madness.

This opening scene emotionally sets the reader up for the tone of greater horror and torture that will follow. It is as if the reader descends into the pit along with the narrator of the story - and feels the overwhelming hopelessness there. With this technique of creating the mood at the beginning, then drawing the reader deeper into it, Poe makes the horror palpable to the reader, who shares in the narrator's torture, and doesn't just observe it happening.

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