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The Pit and the Pendulum

by Edgar Allan Poe
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How long would you estimate the narrator spends in his "vault" in "The Pit and the Pendulum"? What impression or fact leads you to this estimate?

Based on the narrator's descriptions of the meals he was given and his sleep schedule, it is likely that the narrator in "The Pit and the Pendulum" spent between one and three days in his "vault."

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Edgar Allan Poe is deliberately vague and even ahistorical in "The Pit and the Pendulum ." This is part of his literary technique, adding to the suspense of the story and casting doubt on the reliability of the narrator. Nonetheless, though Poe would certainly disapprove, we can make an...

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Edgar Allan Poe is deliberately vague and even ahistorical in "The Pit and the Pendulum." This is part of his literary technique, adding to the suspense of the story and casting doubt on the reliability of the narrator. Nonetheless, though Poe would certainly disapprove, we can make an approximate estimate of the time the narrator spends in the cells of the Spanish Inquisition.

At the beginning of his imprisonment, the narrator is delirious but not altogether insensible. When he returns to consciousness, he says, "it appeared to me that a very long interval of time had since elapsed." However, it appears that he has had nothing to eat or drink in this time. He later finds that bread and water have been placed beside him and notes the avidity with which he ate and drank. He says that after discovering the pit, he stayed "awake for many long hours," then slept. He found bread and water beside him again and believes that this second pitcher of water must have been drugged, for he fell again into a deep sleep. Later, he is given a dish of highly-seasoned meat but no water, apparently to add to his tortures by stimulating his thirst.

The narrator often refers to time passing, but admits "I could take but imperfect note of time." He describes being fed three times, and the emphasis he places on these meals suggests that he was not given food at other times. His captivity therefore seems to have lasted a matter of days rather than hours or weeks, probably a bare minimum of one day, and given the references to sleep and meals, more likely two or three.

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