The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe

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In "The Pit and the Pendulum," how does Edgar Allan Poe develop both the first person point of view and the narrative mode? "The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Edgar Allan Poe's superb short story "The Pit and the Pendulum" has long been subject to many existential and Freudian interpretations.  In the vacillation of the first-person unreliable narrator who is hallucinatory at times and rational in others, there are shifts between the subconscious and the conscious mind.  Thus, the narrative mode is one of psychic reflections and few realities:

Amid frequent and thoughful endeavors to remember, amid earnest struggles to regather some token of the state of seeming nothingness into which my sould then lapsed, there have been brief, very brief periods when I conjured up remembrances which my lucid reason assures me could refer only to that condition of seeming unconsciousness.

The narrator's variable level of consciouness directs the narrative as his perception of things such as the candles and the dimensions of the cell differ depending upon his mental state. The "shadows of memory" recall motion and sound while his subconscious senses the "horror at my heart" and a "rushing revival of soul and a successful effort to move" as his conscious mind has

a full memory of the trial, of the judges, of the sable draperies, of the sentence, of the sickness of the swoon.

It is important to keep in mind that the narrator tells his experiences in retrospect.  And it is this retelling by the "sick unto death with that long agony" narrator that contributes to the horror of the tale.  The hallucinatory quality of the narration also contributes to the Gothic effect of Poe's tale of transcendent experience.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Narrative mode is the collection of choices an author makes about how to tell the narrative. Narrative mode includes point of view and voice (i.e., narrative point-of-view and narrative voice).

Narrative point-of-view ...

...determines through whose perspective the story is viewed [focused].

Narrative voice is "manner through which the story is communicated" to the reader by the author: casual, formal, etc.

First person point of view is defined as when...

...[the] narrator participates in action...

The narrative point of view is an aspect of the narrative mode, which the "author uses to convey the plot to the audience." The narrative mode also...

...encompasses not only who tells the story, but also how the story is described or expressed...

This is key to your question: in first-person, a suffering man tells the story of his torture, but the narrative mode provides more intellectual clarity—as the story moves between what seems to be insanity (imaginings) to rationalism.

First-person narrative is defined as...

...personal point of view of the first person, usually the author participant if the...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 880 words.)

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