The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe Analysis

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  • Published: 21 April 2021
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The allegory “The Pitt and the Pendulum'' by Edgar Allan Poe is full of dramatized scenes as the narrator, a prisoner, describes his experience in a dungeon. Although the story itself is full of life, the ending has left critics feeling disappointed. From a literal standpoint, the conclusion is underwhelming, but from a figurative standpoint, there is symbolism to judgment, punishment, hope, and salvation. The unnamed prisoner receives his judgment from the “the lips of the black-robed judges'' whose lips are “whiter than the sheet” (Poe 1). The description of the judges wearing black robes alludes to them giving down the judgment of perdition since black has a connotation of evilness. The conclusion that the narrator is headed to hell is given when “Angels forms became meaningless spectres, with heads of flame” (Poe 1). Angels are made to be gracious and not of flames, so the ones that the narrator is referring to are demons.   Poe reveals an irony when the judgment comes from their “lips {that} are white” (Poe 1). White means purity and goodness so it is ironic that their lips would be this color. This does allude to that something good may happen. Even with this allusion “the dread sentence of death… led to the decrease of what to {him} was fate” (Poe 1). After the judgment was given the narrator goes on a “mad rushing descent of the soul into Hades'' (Poe 2). According to Greek literature, Hades is the god of the underworld, so the allusion is that the narrator is heading towards hell.  As the prisoner is descending, he is slightly holding on to his faith in the form of hope. He says that with his judgment into hell “all was not lost. In the deepest slumber… even in the grave all was not lost” (Poe 2). 

This descent leads to a dungeon from which the narrator is recalling his experience from. The dungeon is shown to be “The blackness of eternal night encompassed “and “the intensity of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle {him} (Poe 3). Despite being in such an uncomfortable state, the prisoner still seems to rely on what seems to be false hope by saying “yet not for a moment did I suppose myself dead” (Poe 3). As the narrator is trying to get well accustomed with his cell, he trips and finds himself with which he calls a “timely accident” (Poe 5). This accident leads him to the realization that there is a pit in the middle of his cells that is filled with water and rats with “ravenous eyes' ' that makes him ask the question ' '' to what food... have they been accustomed in the well ‘“(Poe 7-10).  The deep pit with its dangerous containments seems to be a symbolic representation of death and the punishments with hell. After having a drugged drink, the narrator wakes up laying down and strapped. Due to his position, he is forced to look up where he sees a pendulum has a shape “like a razor” and with “Its terrifically wide sweep… and the hissing vigor of its descent” (Poe 8). The prisoner then realizes that the pendulum is descending closer and closer to him. Although the pendulum is moving at a fast rate it seems like “long, long hours of horror" to the prisoner (Poe 8). This is symbolic because the pendulum is a part of a clock and as it is getting closer to the narrator it is representing how much closer he is to eternal death. Because of this excruciating experience, the narrator has no other choice but to pray and "weary heaven with {his} prayer for its speedier descent” (Poe 8). This situational irony because it is unexpected for the prisoner to say a prayer to heaven from hell, but the prayer causes him to be " suddenly calm, and lay smiling at the glittering death” that is before him (Poe 8). This symbolizes the narrator's ultimate show of faith as he is near death but becomes calm as he places his hope in his prayer. His prayer seems to be answered as he comes up with the idea for rats to eat the strap away. After escaping the horrors of the pendulum another issue arises for the narrator. The cell that he is in lights up and he sees “demon eyes… {glaring} upon {him} in a thousand directions" and the walls "{gleam} with the lurid lustre of a fire" (Poe 11).

 After the narrator presented the ultimate show of faith he was still tested and this time was a symbolic representation of the burning fires of hell as the heated walls were closing in on him. From this despair, he says "'any death but that of the pit'" and "{had a} final scream of despair"(Poe 12). After this scream there was a "hum of human voices" and a loud blast as of many trumpets" (Poe 12). The sound of the voices and trumpets symbolize victory and not just any victory but the victory of a savior coming to recuse. As the narrator falls into the pit the "outstretched arm" of General Lasalle caught him and saved his life (Poe 12). General Lasalle represents a savior and in biblical terms that would refer to Jesus Christ. 

The ending of the allegory seems unwarranted, but Poe is using the symbolic meaning of the story to convey a stronger message. The prisoner was in despair and was receiving the worst punishments, but despite this, he held on to the little faith he had and in return was saved from eternal death. Edgar Allen Poe is conveying that no matter how dark a situation is, if there is hope there is always salvation.

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