Study Guide

The Pit and the Pendulum Fear

By Edgar Allan Poe


Then the mere consciousness of existence, without thought – a condition which lasted long. Then, very suddenly, <em>thought</em>, and shuddering terror, and earnest endeavor to comprehend my true state. (4)

It seems like without thought, there can be no fear. So, which is the more desirable state?

I longed, yet dared not, to employ my vision. I dreaded the first glance at objects around me. It was not that I feared to look upon things horrible, but that I grew aghast lest there should be <em>nothing</em> to see. At length, with a wild desperation at heart, I quickly unclosed my eyes. My worst thoughts, then, were confirmed. The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. (5)

It's strange to think, considering how many terrible things our narrator might see, that it's the prospect of seeing nothing at all that scares him the most. Is he just afraid of the dark? What's going on here?

A fearful idea now suddenly drove the blood in torrents upon my heart, and for a brief period I once more relapsed into insensibility. Upon recovering, I at once started to my feet, trembling convulsively in every fibre. (6)

Our narrator can only handle so much – too much worry and terror and he lapses into "insensibility." There's only so much a man can take in one day, no?

I saw, to my horror, that the pitcher had been removed. I say to my horror – for I was consumed with intolerable thirst. This thirst it appeared to be the design of my persecutors to stimulate – for the food in the dish was pungently seasoned. (17)

In his agitated state, our narrator seems to find everything – even something as basic as thirst – to be horrible.

I now observed, with what horror it is needless to say, that its nether extremity was formed of a crescent of glittering steel, about a foot in length from horn to horn; the horns upward, and the under edge evidently as keen as that of a razor. Like a razor also it seemed massy and heavy, tapering from the edge into a solid and broad structure above. It was appended to a weighty rod of brass, and the whole <em>hissed</em> as it swung through the air. (20)

"…with what horror it is needless to say…" What horror, indeed! Poe's descriptions are so evocative as to make such proclamations unnecessary. So. Stinkin'. Scary.

Yet, for a wild moment, did my spirit refuse to comprehend the meaning of what I saw. At length it forced – it wrestled its way into my soul – it burned itself in upon my shuddering reason. O for a voice to speak! – oh, horror! – oh, any horror but this! With a shriek I rushed from the margin and buried my face in my hands – weeping bitterly. (36)

Here we see an intense mental progression – a struggle, a <em>losing</em> struggle, against fear.

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