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The Pit and the Pendulum

The Pit and the Pendulum

by Edgar Allan Poe

Versions of Reality Theme

Toward the end of "The Pit and the Pendulum," the narrator tells us that he could no longer believe that what he saw was "unreal" (35). But, as readers, it's hard to make that same leap – though the words may be fixed on the page, the story itself seems fundamentally unstable. It takes place in an "other space," one in which even the simplest things – the shape and size of a room – cannot be established. And, well, if even that sort of thing is questionable, how can we trust anything at all?

Questions About Versions of Reality

  1. Is there anything stable or constant in the narrator's perceptions?
  2. Why does the narrator struggle so hard to discover the shape and size of his prison and other "trifling" matters? What effect must it have when he can't even figure out such inessential things?
  3. At one point, when the glowing walls are bearing down upon him, the narrator says that he cannot "force [his] imagination to regard [the situation] as unreal" (36). What questions does this raise about the reality of his experience and the notion of reality in general?

Chew on This

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

In "The Pit and the Pendulum," reality is a fluid thing: our narrator can be sure of nothing so long as the inquisitors control him.

What's happening to our narrator is definitely real: Poe's use of sensory descriptions drives that point home.

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