Professor Jamie Gallagher
Essay #1- Short Stories
February 1, 2013
The Pit and the Pendulum
One significant aspect of Edgar Allan Poe’s style is his consistent use of detailed description. He uses this tendency to great effect in his short story “The Pit and the Pendulum.” The plan for the story is very simply to create an obscure atmosphere of apprehension and anticipatory horror. Poe achieves this by minutely tracking the path of the narrator’s thoughts and experiences. Although the narrator is somewhat unreliable in nature, his unreliability is inferred, stemming from his fear and physical weakness, rather than from guilt or inherent madness. Because the narrator is very aware of his unreliability and emphasizes it to us in a way that the narrator of “The Tell-Tale Heart” would not, he ironically gives us the sense that he is not trying to deceive. The sense of emotional honesty conveyed by the narrator leads to a sense of increased closeness in the story and intensity of the mood.
Poe excludes certain details that heighten the suspense of the story. As he carefully tracks the psychological wanderings of the narrator, the author does not describe the wrongdoing of the narrator, or the details of his arrest, and later of his salvation. This lapse of the facts has two major effects on the reader. It leads us to identify strongly with the narrators confusion and fear of the unknown. One of the main sources of the protagonist’s terror is that he either knows nothing about what will happen to him, or he knows the exact nature of his fate but cannot do anything with his knowledge. Poe exploits the theme of fear of the unknown by connecting it to the fear of the darkness at the beginning of the narrator’s ordeal and to the fear of being helpless, as in the latter half of the story.
The second effect of our lack of information concerning the narrator’s trial and sentencing is that we cannot determine his level of guilt or innocence....