The Pit and the Pendulum
by Edgar Allan Poe
Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis
Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.
Plot Type : Overcoming the Monster
Anticipation Stage and "Call"
At the beginning of "The Pit and the Pendulum," we get our one and only true glimpse of our hero's inquisitors. He hears his sentence pronounced, and sees the pale lips of the black-robed judges. Even though it's super fuzzy, the monster is given form. Still, the narrator is powerless from the start. The only "call" he hears is his death sentence. Gulp.
Once again, the narrator's powerlessness makes it tough to analyze this as a dream stag (he keeps freakin' fainting!). He has no idea where he's been brought after sentencing. Still, we do get a sense of preparation, if only of the mental variety. In the story's early stages, we watch as he comes to terms with his imprisonment, and attempts to size-up his cell and figure out what exactly his inquisitors have in store for him. Maybe not the kind of dream we hope for, but it's better than what comes next, that's for sure.
Things start going majorly downhill when our hero trips and falls near the edge of the pit. It's the first time we realize the true horror of his position, and it's the prelude (the lead-in) to his greatest ordeal: the slow descent of the pendulum. Soon after finding himself tied down, our hero begins to realize just how bad he's got it. Don't go messing with the Spanish Inquisition, kids!
The narrator lets things get as scary as possible, allowing the deadly pendulum to come within inches of his body, before springing into action. He can feel the blade cutting through his underclothes just before he, aided by a horde of ravenous rats, frees himself and moves to safety. His escape deals a blow to "the monster," his inquisitors, and the situation seems to take a turn for the better – until the walls start to glow and move in on him. He turns the tables only to have them turned right back. Nightmare, indeed.
The Thrilling Escape from Death, and Death of the Monster
Here's where the real "problem" comes with "The Pit and the Pendulum." Sure, the narrator escapes from death (and yes, it's thrilling), and the monster is most definitely defeated – but it all happens thanks to external forces. General Lasalle – not our narrator – is the "hero." Thus, this story really doesn't fulfill Booker's archetype. It's an exception, a story in which the protagonist is really powerless. So, as far as Booker's concerned, his transformation isn't quite as remarkable as it could be (though we still give him props for his clever method of getting out of the way of the pendulum).