What is happening in the first four lines of the story? Describe the dramatic tension this opening creates.

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In the first lines of "The Pit and the Pendulum," we are thrust into the middle of the dramatic story of the unnamed narrator. We learn that a death sentence had been passed on him, though we don't know why, and that he seems to have been granted a reprieve at the last moment. He is in a dizzy, dreamlike state, perhaps on the verge of fainting--"I felt my senses were leaving me," he writes. We learn too that he is in the hands of "inquisitorial voices," perhaps suggesting we are back in the days of the Spanish Inquisition, although "inquisitorial voices" can exist in any era. Finally, in his dizzy, dreamlike state, the narrator feels a sense of something revolving, such as mill wheel, a foreshadowing of what is to come. 

This beginning creates dramatic tension in several ways: By starting off in the middle of the action, or media res, at what appears to be a climax of the story, the reader is immediately hit with the emotional intensity of the scene and pulled into narrative, curious to know what has and will happen. Second this opening is in first person, which encourages us to identify with the narrator. We are witness to his emotions and his sense of disorientation. This heightens the drama, for we feel what he feels, see what he sees. Like him, we find ourselves groping for answers. Finally, with its talk of death and inquisitions and its uncanny, off-kilter quality of waking from a nightmare that may not be over, it creates an immediate sense of unease and foreboding. 

 

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The Pit and the Pendulum

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