The Pit and the Pendulum
How we cite our quotes:
Yet not for a moment did I suppose myself actually dead. Such a supposition, notwithstanding what we read in fiction, is altogether inconsistent with real existence; – but where and in what state was I? The condemned to death, I knew, perished usually at the auto-da-fes, and one of these had been held on the very night of the day of my trial. (6)
Toward the beginning, our narrator questions both the notion of death in general and its usual presentation in fiction. Considering that what we're reading (Poe's story) is fiction, how should we interpret this?
To the victims of its tyranny, there was the choice of death with its direst physical agonies, or death with its most hideous moral horrors. I had been reserved for the latter. By long suffering my nerves had been unstrung, until I trembled at the sound of my own voice, and had become in every respect a fitting subject for the species of torture which awaited me. (13)
The narrator's captors are not simply executioners. They are philosophers too, intensely aware of the ways in which death – its whole process, from anticipation to fulfillment – works upon the psyche. We must wonder, though, why this particular, nutso mode of execution was chosen for our protagonist.
In other conditions of mind I might have had courage to end my misery at once by a plunge into one of these abysses; but now I was the veriest of cowards. Neither could I forget what I had read of these pits – that the sudden extinction of life formed no part of their most horrible plan. (14)
Here we see that the inquisitors' methods have already begun to take effect, turning our narrator into a coward and forcing him to acknowledge the fate that has been prepared for him.