Unreliable Narrator

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The Spanish Inquisition was a bleak time where people were accused of being unfaithful to the Christian faith and death was not merely the loss of life but an endless endeavor toward insanity through torture. Edgar Allan Poe uses this instance and condition in "The Pit and the Pendulum." Throughout the story the question of the narrator's reliability is brought up through his references to madness, his suicide attempts, and his references to his own death.

Through the story, the reader sees many events showing the narrator's reference to madness. While the narrator is watching the black-robed judges, he sees them appear before him, "They appeared to me white— whiter than the sheet upon which I trace these words— and thin even to grotesqueness," (290). This is his vision of death in the form of his judges appearing before him as if they are going to end his trivial existence. After his encounter with heinous judges he sees hope that falls into oblivion, "…the tall candles sank into nothingness! Their flames went out utterly; the blackness of darkness supervened; all sensations appeared swallowed up in a mad rushing decent, as of the soul into Hades," (290). His hope is gone and now he expresses his vision of an incubus of darkness as if his soul where being swallowed which is another example of his vision of death. Then as he contemplates his swoon he reaches a conclusion, "…there are two stages: first, that of the sense of mental or spiritual; second, that of the sense of physical existence," (290). He realizes that memories are of mental and physical existence and questions his own memories which make the reader doubt his narrations. The references to madness lead the reader to believe that he is unreliable.

The narrator's suicide attempts further the question of his sanity. After scrutinizing his confinement he realizes there is a deep abyss smelling of carrion and tries to jump but doesn't, "In other conditions of mind, I might have had the courage to end...
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