Poe's Stories

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Narrator (The Pit and the Pendulum) Character Analysis

A victim of the Catholic Inquisition, he faints upon hearing his death sentence. When he wakes he is in a dark cell. He describes his confinement, trying to establish the cell’s perimeter, and from then on, his narrow escapes from death keep us fixed on his movements and thoughts, though he often alternates rapidly between calm and panic. It is never quite sure whether he is being watched or not, or whether his reactions are due to him being drugged or scared. As such, he becomes representative of the uncertainty of the time of the Inquisition.

Narrator (The Pit and the Pendulum) Quotes in Poe's Stories

The Poe's Stories quotes below are all either spoken by Narrator (The Pit and the Pendulum) or refer to Narrator (The Pit and the Pendulum). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Poe's Stories published in 2006.
The Pit and the Pendulum Quotes

I had swooned; but will not say that all of consciousness was lost. What of it there remained I will not attempt to define, or even to describe; yet all was not lost. In the deepest slumber – no! In delirium – no! In a swoon -- no! In death – no! even in the grave all is not lost. Else there is no immortality for man.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Pit and the Pendulum) (speaker)
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

In this story, a man is sentenced to torture by the Spanish Inquisition. As he's sentenced, the man faints, and yet still remains somewhat conscious of his surroundings. As the man puts it, it's impossible to be truly unconscious--whether you're awake, asleep, delirious, or dead, some part of you is always at least somewhat aware of where you are and what's going on.

The passage is a grim bit of foreshadowing, because there will be many times in the story when the narrator wishes he were totally unconscious. But there is no relief for the narrator--his dreams are just as terrifying as his reality. The sense of inescapable horror--of being "buried alive," whether literally or metaphorically--is typical of Poe's style.

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Looking upwards I surveyed the ceiling of my prison. […] In one of its panels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention. It was the painted figure of Time as he is commonly represented, save that, in lieu of a scythe, he held what, at a casual glance, I supposed to be the pictured image of a huge pendulum, such as we see on antique clocks.

Related Characters: Narrator (The Pit and the Pendulum) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Architecture
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the narrator becomes aware of his torture. In a dungeon, there is a painting of the figure of Time, carrying a large pendulum that resembles a scythe (a symbol of how Time must "reap" the human race via death). Although the narrator doesn't realize it right away, the painting of Time--and the very real, very sharp pendulum that he's carrying--will be the narrator's next form of torture. The pendulum is a symbol of the inevitability of death--just as time brings all human beings closer and closer to death, the pendulum threatens to kill the narrator, who is trapped in his Gothic torture-chamber, with increasingly terrifying force.

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Narrator (The Pit and the Pendulum) Character Timeline in Poe's Stories

The timeline below shows where the character Narrator (The Pit and the Pendulum) appears in Poe's Stories. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Pit and the Pendulum
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The story begins at the moment the narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" is sentenced to death at the time of the Catholic Inquisition. The narrator listens to... (full context)
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
The narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" tries to describe the strange swoon. It is not like sleep or death, it has... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
As the "Pit and Pendulum" narrator ’s body awakens, he tries to remember his own descent into this dream world, and... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The Power of Memory Theme Icon
The narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" tries to figure out what has happened. He can’t possibly be dead. He knows he... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Stretching out his hands in the dark, the prisoner finds a wall. He attempts to find out the dimensions of his cell by tearing... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
When the narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" wakes, a pitcher of water and some bread has been placed beside him. He is... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
As the narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" lands and comes to, he realizes that he is in an extremely precarious position –... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
Eventually the narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" sleeps and when he wakes, another pitcher and loaf has been left. He drinks and... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" now realizes that while asleep he has been put on a wooden board and strapped... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" is mesmerized by this motion for a minute but then gets distracted by some huge... (full context)
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" describes the torture of waiting for the pendulum’s slow descent, for days, it seems. One... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
The narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" watches the pendulum swaying back and forth, directly over his heart. He contemplates how the... (full context)
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
...are ravenous and have already eaten up the portion of meat beside the bed of the narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" . Along with the movement of the pendulum, the narrator lets his hand wave over... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
Self, Solitude, and Consciousness Theme Icon
...his escape, the pendulum machine stops moving and rises back up to the ceiling, and the narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" knows that his every move is being watched. He looks suspiciously around the cell. He... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
...the plans of his captors becomes frighteningly clear – the walls are closing in on the narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" . As they get closer, the sensation and smell of heat emanates from the glowing... (full context)
Rivals and Doppelgangers Theme Icon
The Dead and the Living Theme Icon
The Gothic Style Theme Icon
The narrator of "Pit and Pendulum" tries to withstand the pressure of the closing walls but soon he barely has an... (full context)