In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Pit and the Pendulum," the narrator, who is not named, appears before a panel of judges during the Spanish Inquisition. It is not clear what the narrator has been accused of. Poe writes (note that line numbers differ according to the edition, so these lines may not exactly correspond to lines 26-27), "I saw the lips of the black-robed judges. They appeared to me white—whiter than the sheet upon which I trace these words—and thin even to grotesqueness...I saw that the decrees of what to me was Fate were still issuing from those lips. I saw them writhe with a deadly locution. I saw them fashion the syllables of my name; and I shuddered because no sound succeeded." The narrator has just heard that he has been sentenced to death, but he is in a state of extreme shock and cannot comprehend what the judges who pronounced his sentence are saying. It's almost as if he has already descended into a tomb, or a state of near-death, as he awaits his fate. The whiteness and thinness of the judges' lips call to his mind ghost-like images and remind him of the deadly fate that awaits him. In this passage, Poe contrasts the darkness of the judges' robes with the whiteness of their lips, and the narrator swings between these two extremes of color in a state of panic.
The narrator later sees dark draperies in the judges' chamber and then seven white, thin candles that he first regards as "white slender angels who would save me." He then realizes that the candles cannot help him, and they become ghost-like figures. At this point, the narrator falls into a kind of delirium and can only think of the tomb that awaits him, and he gives up all hope of being saved.