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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Analysis of the characters and events in "The Pit and the Pendulum"


In "The Pit and the Pendulum," the protagonist endures psychological and physical torment, symbolizing human resilience in the face of fear and death. The oppressive setting and relentless suspense highlight his struggle against the unknown forces of the Spanish Inquisition. The story emphasizes themes of time, terror, and the thin line between hope and despair.

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Who are the characters in "The Pit and the Pendulum" and how many are there?

The characters of the "Pit and the Pendulum" are as follows. We can confirm only two, plus an unknown number of captors and rats:

The narrator: The narrator has no name, but he has been arrested and imprisoned by the Inquisition and will be subjected to torture meant, ultimately, to kill him. He is kept in a dark room with a deep, round pit in the center that is filled with water and rats.

His captor(s): These are shadowy, elusive figures, whose existence is primarily confirmed by what they do while the narrator is passed out. He finds they have left bread, water, and meat that he can eat. He also finds himself bound by straps to a board. A pendulum, obviously set in motion by his captors, swings lower and lower, threatening to slice through his body.

The rats: When he rubs meat on his straps, the rats come and chew the straps off, which allows him to escape the pendulum.

General LaSalle: At the end of story, General LaSalle, who has come to liberate people from the Inquisition, saves the narrator from falling into the pit and drowning.

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Who are the characters in "The Pit and the Pendulum" and how many are there?

There is one main character in "The Pit and the Pendulum"--the unnamed narrator who is the recipient of the torture. The captors of the narrator appear briefly, but indirectly. A trapdoor is opened and a light shines down on the narrator, so we can assume that his captors or a guard is checking in one him.

Other minor character are the rescuers at the end of the story, but they are only mentioned very briefly. You could also consider the rats as characters--they help the narrator achieve his goal of getting untied from the bench. The pit is such a strong force that it could be considered a character as well.

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Who are the characters in "The Pit and the Pendulum" and how many are there?

There is only one main character in The Pit and the Pendulum: the narrator. However, despite the fact that he is the main character, we know next to nothing about him. For more discussion on him, I have provided a link. There are some other people mentioned in passing such as the "black-robed judges,"  the people who carried him away from his sentencing, the inquisitorial agents, and the only named character: General Lasalle of the French army who inadvertently saves the narrator at the end of the story. 

As for the key events:

  • The narrator's sentencing
  • His exploration of the cell
  • His finding the pit
  • The lights coming on to reveal what the cell looks like
  • The narrator waking up to find that he is tied down and the pendulum is slowly coming down on him
  • His escape from the restraints and the pendulum, and the paintings on the wall changing
  • The walls slowly closing in on him
  • General Lasalle stopping everything and inadvertently saving the narrator

That is just the bare skeleton of the story. For a fuller summary, I have provided a link.

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How many events occur in "The Pit and the Pendulum"?

When one reads a short story, one can think of it in terms of the story arc, that is, the rising action, climax, and falling action. These events are related to the plot and follow the development and resolution of the conflict. Another way to think of a story is to follow the story line, that is, to follow the events of a story in chronological order. This will give an understanding of what happens in the story, whereas following the plot helps one understand why things happen.

In Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Pit and the Pendulum," the main events unfold as follows:

1. The narrator is tried and sentenced.

2. The man wakes up in a dark dungeon; he tries to determine how large it is and what its features are by walking around the perimeter.

3. The man falls asleep, then wakes to continue his exploration. He trips and finds his face hanging over the edge of a pit.

4. The man drinks and sleeps from the drugged liquid. When he wakes up he can see the cell. He finds himself strapped to a low table.

5. The pendulum above him begins to swing and slowly descend for days. 

6. When the blade gets very near his chest, the man escapes by rubbing meat on his bonds, which causes the rats to chew through them.

7. Upon his escape, the pendulum is withdrawn upwards. The walls begin to heat up and close in on him.

8. Just as he is about to be forced into the pit by the moving walls, he hears noises, and the walls are drawn back. He has been rescued by General LaSalle.

Much of the story involves the thoughts of the man as he undergoes the psychological agonies involved in the torture. The main events are relatively few and straightforward; the suspense occurs as the reader participates with the main character in the fears and mental torture his captors inflict on him. 

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