What is a short summary of "The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Key to understanding this tale is considering how it might operate symbolically. This classic horror tale opens in Toledo, Spain, in the final days of the Spanish Inquisition. After an agonising trial, the first-person narrator hears judges condemn him to death. He faints and awakens in a pitch-dark dungeon, where he narrowly escapes a fatal fall into a pit. He sleeps, awakens to find food and water nearby, drinks, and loses consciousness. Reviving from a drugged stupor, he finds himself bound to a frame. He sees a glow from beneath the walls, realises that they are solid metal, then looks up to see a scythe-like pendulum descending toward him. One of his arms is free, and a bowl of meat is nearby. He rubs meat scraps on his bindings so that rats eat through them. As he rolls free, the dungeon walls, now glowing hot, move inward, forcing him toward the pit. At the last second, he hears a confused din. The walls rush back. Fainting, he topples into the pit. A strong arm catches him; it is General Lasalle of France, whose army has just taken Toledo.

You will want to think about how various ingredients could be said to operate symbolically, such as the scythe and the pit. Many critics have said this is a story about faith or death.

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