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The Pit and the Pendulum

by Edgar Allan Poe

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Discussion Topic

The mechanism by which the walls in "The Pit and the Pendulum" force the narrator into the pit

Summary:

The mechanism by which the walls force the narrator into the pit in "The Pit and the Pendulum" involves the walls progressively heating up and moving inward. This creates an increasingly narrow space, compelling the narrator toward the center where the pit is located, ultimately pushing him closer to the brink of falling in.

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In "The Pit and the Pendulum", what causes the prison walls to force the narrator into the pit?

The narrator also notices that

The room had been square. I saw that two of its iron angles were now acute--two, consequently, obtuse. The fearful difference quickly increased with a low rumbling or moaning sound. In an instant the apartment had shifted its form into that of a lozenge....the closing walls pressed me resistlessly onward.  At length for my seared and writhing body there was no longer an inch of foothold on the firm floor of the prison...

So the last torment is the narrator shrinking away from the pit, only to be seared by the hot iron walls, as they push him into the precipice.

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In "The Pit and the Pendulum", what causes the prison walls to force the narrator into the pit?

Everything seems blurry to the narrator, especially at first, because it alludes to the fact that they are drugging him.  They give him food and drink, but the narrator says "it must have been drugged" and after, he always falls into blurriness and sleep. 

In the beginning of his imprisonment, he is put in the dark chamber, with no lights whatsoever, in the hopes that he would get up and walk around, and thus fall into the pit.  He barely misses this fate when he trips and falls "at the very brink of a circular pit".  So, that doesn't work.  His captors, who open the door quickly to check  to see if he has fallen, are disappointed.  So, they drug him and tie him to a plank, in order to attempt the next torture:  The pendulum of death.  Fortunately, he uses his wit to escape that one too.  But then at the end, it is alluded to the fact that the walls themselves are turning hot, almost aglow with fire.  The walls have been set on fire, and the heat and air are so intense that the narrator "rushed to its [the pit's] deadly brink", tempted to throw himself over.  Gratefully, he is rescued before he takes the plunge.

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How do the walls in "The Pit and the Pendulum" force the narrator into the pit?

The walls of the narrator's prison are not attached to the floor or ceiling.  That means that the walls themselves can move independently from the rest of the room.  

It proceeded from a fissure, about half an inch in width, extending entirely around the prison at the base of the walls, which thus appeared, and were, completely separated from the floor.

The walls can be slid toward each other.  If you saw the original Star Wars that should make sense.  Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewy are all in the trash room, and the walls begin closing in on them.  That's the same thing in Poe's story.  Except the middle of the room has a really deep pit.  The walls themselves move a bit differently too.  They change angle and make the room take on the shape of a pill or "lozenge."  

In an instant the apartment had shifted its form into that of a lozenge.

The narrator could choose to get crushed by the walls or jump into the pit.  But getting crushed by the walls is an almost impossibility because the walls are made of iron and are being heated.  They would sear and burn him badly before they crushed him.  The entire point of burning hot walls that are squeezing in on the narrator is to force him to jump into the pit.  

Amid the thought of the fiery destruction that impended, the idea of the coolness of the well came over my soul like balm. I rushed to its deadly brink. I threw my straining vision below.

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