In "The Pit and the Pendulum," how does the beginning contribute to the meaning of the story?

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rmhope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The beginning paragraph, after the Latin quatrain, serves the purpose of providing an ambiguous reason for the man to undergo the tortures he experiences in the story. Poe's obvious main interest in the story is describing the psychological effects of diabolical torture on its victim. Yet for the story to be somewhat plausible, the perpetrators of the torture must be introduced. The beginning of the story merely needs to establish the rationale, the antagonist, the inciting incident, and the mood so that the man's emotional struggle for survival can begin. Having the man being sentenced to death at the beginning creates the rationale for the torture; the narrator knows his life is at stake. The antagonist is introduced in the vaguest of terms. The words "Spanish Inquisition" are not used in the first paragraph, only the adjective "inquisitorial" to describe the voices. The mysterious black-robed judges with their grotesquely thin white lips stand for an institution rather than a single person who wants the man dead. The death sentence is the inciting incident, the event that begins the action of the story. With such a dramatic inciting incident, the reader becomes quickly involved, knowing the conflict is life or death. The primary way the beginning contributes to the meaning of the story, however, is by setting the mood. Since the story's meaning is all about how the man reacts to his torture, the gripping descriptions of his emotions in the beginning create the pattern for the rest of the story. The narrator shudders, he experiences "delirious horror," he is overcome with "deadly nausea," and he "felt every fibre in my frame thrill as if I had touched the wire of a galvanic battery." These descriptions and others clue the reader that intense emotions are in store while creating mystery and suspense. If he is feeling this way just at the sentencing, how will the man bear up under what is to come? Thus the first paragraph introduces the rationale for the torture and the antagonist as it describes the inciting incident, but more importantly, it establishes the psychological setting where the bulk of the story will occur. 

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The Pit and the Pendulum

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