“The Pit and the Pendulum” is full of symbols. Although they are all open to interpretation, several, particularly the pit and the pendulum themselves, are very clear and comprehensible given the themes and atmosphere of the story.
The narrator is condemned by white-lipped, black-robed judges, whose resolution and contempt for human life suggest that they symbolize fate. He then notices seven tall candles, which at first seem like angels but quickly become “meaningless specters with heads of flame.” The narrator himself says that he saw no help would come from them, showing that they symbolize the departure of hope, perhaps hope from a spiritual or religious quarter.
The pit symbolizes the ever-present threat of death and hell, into which it would be all too easy to cast oneself in despair or sink without even realizing it. The pendulum is a symbol of time, lethal and razor-sharp because time eventually destroys everyone and everything. Although all these are instruments of torture designed by the Inquisition, the red-hot walls which threaten to force the narrator into the pit actually symbolize torture, which through the infliction of fiery pain actuates the subject to seek his own destruction.
Finally, General Lasalle and his forces, the enemies of the Inquisition who rescue the narrator, accompanied by the sound of trumpets, represent the Enlightenment values of reason and liberty.