In the short story "The Pit and the Pendulum,” by Edgar Allan Poe, the author sets a tone of fear and gloom. Specifically, the narrator is petrified about being put to an impending and potentially painful death. The story is set during the Spanish Inquisition, and the narrator has been put on trial for an unknown crime that is never disclosed to the reader. At the conclusion of the trial, Poe writes,
I WAS sick—sick unto death with that long agony…The sentence—the dread sentence of death—was the last of distinct accentuation which reached my ears.
Then, the reader immediately gets the sense that the narrator is enclosed in a small cramped room where he awaits his fate. The writer describes this experience using sensory words that create a feeling of suspense. For instance, the prisoner notes that “a fearful idea now suddenly drove the blood in torrents upon my heart,” and he was “trembling convulsively in every fibre” as he “dreaded to move a step, lest I should be impeded by the walls of a tomb.”
Poe provides the understanding that while the narrator is being imprisoned in a small, dank cell, he is fearful of being executed. However, the narrator has a glimmer of hope. What finally gives him this hope is when he finds a dish of food. He is hungry and thirsty, and finding the food enables him to satisfy his hunger, which in turn gives him the hope that he can continue to find ways to help himself and perhaps evade the pending death. He
could, by dint of much exertion, supply myself with food from an earthen dish which lay by my side on the floor....
As I put a portion of it within my lips, there rushed to my mind a half formed thought of joy—of hope.
However, the hope is short-lived. Immediately after satisfying his need to eat, he questions himself about why he even had a glimmer of hope. The narrator asks, “Yet what business had I with hope?” Interestingly, the story ends on a positive note, as the enemies of the Inquisition storm the city.