Ideas and Topics for Papers


1. The story never explains why the central character has been thrown into the pit. Why does Poe not inform the reader of his crime?

2. There are many details in the story which suggest the state of sleep, such as references to dreams and occasions when the character himself falls asleep. How is it possible to think of this story as a fictional account of a nightmare?

3. The primary dilemma of the narrator is that he is caught between the seemingly bottomless pit and the slowly descending pendulum. What do these two horrors represent?

4. What kinds of methods does the protagonist use to try to save himself? How successful are they?

5. Why is the protagonist finally rescued by some force outside of himself rather than by his own efforts?

6. What is it that keeps the protagonist from simply giving up?

7. Some critics have suggested that the story is an allegory of the basic dilemma of human life, for all the major elements of the story correspond to the universal human dilemma. Can you explain how this might be true?

8. How would you characterize the basic personality of the protagonist? Consider not only his actions, but also how he describes those actions.

9. This story seems to be set outside of any social context and to be devoid of any significant social theme. If this is so, then what kind of basic human theme or message about the human will does it express?


1. Many short-story writers in America in the nineteenth century said that they wanted to write a story that seemed like a dream or a nightmare. Show how “The Pit and the Pendulum” is such a story.

2. In some very basic ways, the situation of the narrator in the story suggests that it is a universal human dilemma and that he is a figure representing everyman. Explain how this allegorical reading of the story can be supported.

3. Although the story deals with a horrifying dilemma and makes use of violent actions, it does not seem as shocking as many horror films today. Why not?

4. There is only one character in this story, and all we know about him directly is that he is caught in a horrifying dilemma. Describe what we can infer about his personality from his behavior; discuss how he attempts to cope with his situation.

5. How would you characterize the kinds of fears and anxieties that the protagonist faces? In what ways are they like fears and anxieties that all of us have?