In lines 179–196 of "The Pit and the Pendulum," what are the sensory details listed? How do they contribute to the atmosphere? Which senses do they appeal to?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Because the story appears in many different printed versions, lines 179–196 could vary depending on your copy of the text. However, I'm going to assume the passage being referred to is the scene where the narrator wakes up to find himself strapped to a low table and is finally able to see the interior of his cell. In this section, Poe uses visual, tactile, and gustatory imagery to create an atmosphere of suspense and terror. After having been drugged in his pitch black cell, the narrator now is awake and able to look at the place he tried to discern without light. The first thing he notices is the artwork on the walls. Painted on the walls are menacing fiends in colors that are "faded and blurred." He also notices the stone floor and the pit that he had nearly fallen into. Looking up, about 30 to 40 feet overhead he sees a painted mural of Time personified, and instead of a scythe, it holds a pendulum. These descriptions help the reader experience the room with the narrator.

The most distressing imagery, however, is tactile. The narrator describes his physical position in a way that makes the reader feel what he feels. The man is strapped on a low wooden frame, lying flat on his back, securely bound by a "surcingle," a wide strap used on a horse, that has been wound multiple times around parts of his body. We learn he can only barely lift his head to look around, and only his left arm is somewhat free, allowing it to reach some food in an "earthen dish." This tactile imagery allows us to experience the sensations and textures the man experiences. Another type of imagery related to tactile imagery is kinesthetic, that is, imagery of motion. The man's inability to move and his perception of the moving pendulum fall into this category.

The final type of imagery used in this section is gustatory, or taste, imagery. The man notices the pitcher is missing, and is immediately "consumed with intolerable thirst." He also notices that the meat in the dish is "pungently seasoned." These descriptions go a long way toward intensifying the torture that the man experiences—and that the reader experiences with him through imagery.

Through the imagery of the menacing paintings on the wall and ceiling, the tight binding of the man's body, and the pungent food causing unbearable thirst, Poe is able to create feelings of fear and suspense in his readers.

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The Pit and the Pendulum

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