Please explain some of the symbolism in "The Pit and the Pendulum."

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There are several symbols in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum":

  • The candles - At first the seven candlesticks resemble angels who may have come to help the narrator as they surround the seven black robed judges; however, they soon fade from his view. They may, then, symbolize his flickering, waning life as he is condemned by the judges.
  • The pit - At first the narrator escapes the pit, but after he is able to escape from the pendulum, the walls push him toward the pit, much like the fall into Hell. 

"The pit, typical of hell, and regarded by rumour as the Ultima Thule of all their punishments."

  • The pendulum - The swinging pendulum represents the inexorable passage of time. Shaped like a scythe of Father Time, the rhythm of this pendulum resembles the heart beat of the narrator.
  • The moving walls - The walls seems to close in on the victim, pushing him toward the pit. This pit symbolizes the unknown horror of the Inquisition. Its depth does not permit the victim from seeing its shape or knowing what is inside it.

Only at the last second is the narrator saved by the French.



teacherscribe's profile pic

teacherscribe | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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This story is full of symbolism.  One could view the entire story as one man's descent into hell (the pit functions as a symbol obviously), then his progression into purgatory (the pendulum serving as a way to pass time or work off his sins), and then finally his ascension into heaven (the French soldiers freeing him symbolic of heaven by the sudden light shining into the gloom and the sound of horns heralding his release).

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dawson8003 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

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I have to do a research paper on the different sides of darkness explored by edger allen poe, but im having a hard time. What am I not understanding?