illustration of a blade on the end of a pendulum swinging above a man's head

The Pit and the Pendulum

by Edgar Allan Poe

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What "voice" did Poe use to write "The Pit and the Pendulum" and was it appropriate for the story and audience?

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One feature of the style of Poe's writing is that he seems to be a master ventriloquist, being able to create and bring to life a series of characters and narrate tales from their perspective convincingly. His ability to possess these characters utterly is one of the reasons why he is such a master writer. In this short story concerning the Spanish Inquisition, he assumes the persona of a prisoner of the Inquisition, doomed to death. As we would expect, the account focuses on the supreme terror that the narrator experiences as he faces the various ways employed to try and execute him and also to try and break his character. The most terrifying is, of course, the pendulum itself, as the narrator is forced to watch his inevitable but gradual doom descend upon him:

Down--steadily down it crept. I took a frenzied pleasure in contrasting its downward with its lateral velocity. To the right--to the left--far and wide--with the shriek of a damned spirit! to my heart, with the stealthy pace of the tiger! I alternately laughed and howled, as the one or the other idea grew predominant.

When we think of reactions like these, we cannot ignore the realistic nature of how the narrator is presented. He is a person facing extreme, life or death, situations and, as such, he experiences psychologically the impact of pure terror on his being. Therefore, when we think of the voice that Poe assumes, we cannot help but feeling he has assumed the realistic voice of someone facing horrific torture. This account allows Poe to examine the impact of such terrors on the human psyche. I feel therefore that this voice is appropriate to the context of the story and the tortures that we know that prisoners of the Inquisition faced.

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