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The Pit and the Pendulum
The Pit and the Pendulum
by Edgar Allan Poe
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The Pit and the Pendulum Theme of Life, Existence, and Consciousness

"The Pit and the Pendulum" exists on the razor-thin edge between life and death, consciousness and unconsciousness. Indeed, the narrator, when he's not trying to save himself, is more often than not "swooning" (fainting), coming in and out of consciousness, and losing and regaining his senses. And it's during these in-between states that his best thoughts are formed, and during which we get the best insights into his character. Why? Well, in these moments we have to question our own experience, to ponder what we think lies on the other side of life and in the depths of our unconscious minds. Heavy stuff.

Questions About Life, Existence, and Consciousness

  1. Is there any one big lesson about life or existence that our narrator takes away from his experience?
  2. It might sound crazy, but considering the insights he's able to make into his own being, can the narrator's trip to the dungeons be regarded as a positive experience overall?
  3. In the process of all his "swooning," how far does the narrator push the boundaries of human consciousness? Is it possible to be in these weird in-between states of consciousness?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

In the end, we must think of the narrator's experience less as a horrible tale and more as a profound learning experience.

Even as Poe horrifies us – or perhaps because he does – he forces us to consider how such experiences would change our outlook on life and our notion of existence.

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