illustration of a blade on the end of a pendulum swinging above a man's head

The Pit and the Pendulum

by Edgar Allan Poe
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What creates an atmosphere of horror in Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum"?

Poe creates an atmosphere of horror in "The Pit and the Pendulum" by withholding key information and maintaining suspense. This encourages readers to imaginatively fill in the gaps with horrifying possibilities and, until the very end, suspect that the narrator will die.

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Poe creates an atmosphere of horror in "The Pit and the Pendulum " by keeping the reader constantly in suspense and uncertainty. Readers are plunged abruptly into the action from the first sentence, without any explanations. The narrator is sick, but it is unclear why. They unbind him and...

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Poe creates an atmosphere of horror in "The Pit and the Pendulum" by keeping the reader constantly in suspense and uncertainty. Readers are plunged abruptly into the action from the first sentence, without any explanations. The narrator is sick, but it is unclear why. They unbind him and permit him to sit, but we do not know who "they" are. He is sentenced to death, but his crime is undisclosed. These uncertainties are all contained in the first few lines, creating a feeling that anything could happen.

This technique continues throughout the story. The narrator's cell is so profoundly dark that anything could be lurking within it. His mind is tormented with fables and images "too ghastly to repeat." It takes him quite some time to discover the pit while he continually reflects on all the horrible ways in which he might die. When he later faces death from the pendulum, the huge rats which deliver him from his plight are even more physically disgusting than the prospect of death from the swinging scimitar. Even his salvation, therefore, contributes to the atmosphere of horror:

They pressed—they swarmed upon me in ever accumulating heaps. They writhed upon my throat; their cold lips sought my own; I was half stifled by their thronging pressure; disgust, for which the world has no name, swelled my bosom, and chilled, with a heavy clamminess, my heart.

The narrator's rescue by General Lasalle brings a sudden end to the story. This means that the nightmarish atmosphere of uncertainty and terror persists until the last few lines. Until then, readers feels that a terrible death might overtake the narrator at any time, preserving the atmosphere of horror until the last possible moment.

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