What mental processes does James Bond go though in his physical and mental "test" that Dr. No puts him through. Give at least 2 examples/quotes (Chapter 17 and 18). Pay attention not only to what...

What mental processes does James Bond go though in his physical and mental "test" that Dr. No puts him through. Give at least 2 examples/quotes (Chapter 17 and 18). Pay attention not only to what he does to get through it, but also the times where Bond thinks to himself about strategy, endurance, etc. To what extent are they similar mental processes to the narrators of "The Pit and the Pendulum" and "A Descent Into the Maelstrom" by Edgar Allen Poe? 

Expert Answers
kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As Chapter XVI of Ian Fleming’s Dr. No comes to a close, the titular character has informed British intelligence operative James Bond what fate he has in store for this worthy adversary.  Dr. No has told Bond of his deep interest in what he calls “the anatomy of courage,” and that he has prepared an obstacle course that will enable him to subject individuals to this demanding and ultimately fatal exercise so that he may subsequently conduct an autopsy on them to study the manner in which the human body responds to extreme tests of endurance and danger.  Chapter XVII, then, opens with Bond being imprisoned in a small cell with only one apparent way of escape, through a wire grille opening in the cement wall leading, it seems, to the obstacle course. 

Bond’s mental endurance is put to the test, but the mental component is not the most challenging part of his ordeal.  Rather, the physical component is the most challenging, as he knows that escaping is his only chance of survival, and of rescuing Honey from the horrendous fate Dr. No has devised for her.  From the start, therefore, it is the physical that causes the discomfort.  Right away, Bond experiences intense pain when he is burned by the electrified grille.  Fleming indicates, however, that this first salvo is merely intended as an introduction to what lies ahead.  As Bond thinks to himself after recovering from the electrical shock, “He was meant to get through it. The shock had been to soften him up—a taste of pain to come.”  That Bond accepts this opening salvo is further indication that Dr. No’s experiment, as he has informed Bond, is about “courage,” a mental or emotional characteristic.  As Bond enters the ventilation shaft, then, Fleming continues to have his protagonist consider the role each obstacle poses for the subjects of Dr. No’s experiment:

“Doctor No must have adapted one of the shafts to his purpose. What hazards had he built into it to test out his victims? They would be ingenious and painful—designed to reduce the resistance of the victim. . .Unless of course Doctor No had been just a bit too clever. Unless he had underestimated the will to survive. That, thought Bond, was his only hope—to try to survive the intervening hazards, to get through at least to the last ditch.”

Bond is relentlessly driven forward by the mandate of saving Honey and by his will to survive.  As such, he accepts each of Dr. No’s obstacles in the spirit in which they have been arranged, all the way to the giant squid he must overcome as the novel nears its conclusion.  Fleming has his heroic spy suffer physically and mentally, but Bond cannot give up.  He is angry – who wouldn’t be? – as when he approaches the "heat test." "Bitterly," Fleming writes, "he examined the new hazard, probing it, cursing it."  He knows, though, that he must continue, as the alternative is unpalatable: “Bond thought of the girl and of what she was going through.  Oh well.  Get on with it.”

Edgar Allan Poe’s narrator in "The Pit and the Pendulum" faces his own challenges.  A story that takes place during the Spanish Inquisition and that, as the title indicates, features the use of a giant pendulum as a means of mentally and physically torturing and ultimately killing its victims, Poe’s protagonist, similar to Fleming’s, has no recourse but to escape and survive.  The entire point of the pendulum, of course, is to subject its victims to the most horrific death – being slowly cut in half – only after being forced to monitor the huge blade’s slow descent onto one’s restrained body.  As Poe’s narrator describes his situation:

 “Looking upward, I surveyed the ceiling of my prison. It was some thirty or forty feet overhead, and constructed much as the side walls. In one of its panels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention. It was the painted figure of Time as he is commonly represented, save that, in lieu of a scythe, he held what, at a casual glance, I supposed to be the pictured image of a huge pendulum, such as we see on antique clocks. There was something, however, in the appearance of this machine which caused me to regard it more attentively. While I gazed directly upward at it (for its position was immediately over my own) I fancied that I saw it in motion. In an instant afterward the fancy was confirmed. Its sweep was brief, and of course slow. I watched it for some minutes somewhat in fear, but more in wonder. Wearied at length with observing its dull movement, I turned my eyes upon the other objects in the cell.”

Poe has established the bleakness of his protagonist’s predicament and has emphasized the physical and mental pain to which he is being subjected.  He has no option but to observe his own mental torture as the pendulum gradually descends closer to his prone body:

“What I then saw confounded and amazed me. The sweep of the pendulum had increased in extent by nearly a yard. As a natural consequence its velocity was also much greater. But what mainly disturbed me was the idea that it had perceptibly descended.”

Poe’s character, like Fleming’s, is resourceful and escapes death by pendulum only to be threatened by the pit’s darkness and uncertainty.  He does survive his ordeal when French soldiers snatch him from the figurative and literal abyss. He has endured a level of mental pain incomprehensible to Poe’s readers. 

The main protagonist of Poe’s short story "A Descent into the Maelstrom" is an elderly gentleman who has survived a horrific ordeal, a shipwreck and giant whirlpool, “the great whirlpool of the Maelstrom.” As with "The Pit and the Pendulum" and Dr. No, the old man recounting this story has been forced, according to his fantastic tale, through an unimaginable mental and physical ordeal.  As he continues to relate his story to the narrator, he notes at one point:

“I could not tell you the twentieth part of the difficulties we encountered ‘on the ground’ —it is a bad spot to be in, even in good weather —but we made shift always to run the gauntlet of the Moskoe-strom itself without accident; although at times my heart has been in my mouth when we happened to be a minute or so behind or before the slack.”

Similar to Fleming’s protagonist, who must navigate a series of physical and mental obstacles to survive, the old man in Poe’s unusual tale must similarly endure a series of challenges that exact a mental as well as physical toll:

 “With the wind that now drove us on, we were bound for the whirl of the Strom, and nothing could save us! . . . I cursed myself for being so great a fool as to dream of hope at all. I knew very well that we were doomed, had we been ten times a ninety-gun ship.”

While the reader could expect that Fleming was not ready to “kill-off” his hero, and while the outcome of "The Pit and the Pendulum" could have gone either of two ways, there is really no suspense in "A Descent into the Maelstrom."  The story of survival is being told retrospectively, so it is obvious that the main character has survived his ordeal.  The challenges he has confronted, however, subjected him to great emotional duress and, in that, he shares a common trait with the protagonists of the other two stories herein discussed.

Read the study guide:
The Pit and the Pendulum

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question