Literary Qualities

Although Poe often declared that the allegory was an inferior form of fiction, he comes close to creating an allegory in “The Pit and the Pendulum.” Instead of allegory, Poe favored gothic short fiction, a form that was extremely popular in the early nineteenth century in Germany. Many of Poe’s stories reveal that he is familiar with such gothic fiction and is at times parodying the form. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to determine if he is presenting a seemingly horrific story as a serious experience or as a satiric and comic one. Although “The Pit and the Pendulum” seems to fit in the serious category, the miraculous escape at the end makes it very similar to the so-called “inescapable predicament” type of short fiction which he did parody in other stories.

“The Pit and the Pendulum” is also similar, both in its technique and its central dilemma, to other Poe stories. For example, Poe often used the concept of a premature burial as the basic predicament of a story. In many ways, the narrator in “The Pit and the Pendulum” also suffers the horror of being made to languish in his grave-like pit. The manner in which the narrator methodically examines the nature of his cell and attempts to deduce ways he might escape is another characteristic of Poe’s fiction. In this regard, the story is not only typical of Poe’s nightmare stories, it also shares some of the logical elements of stories such as “The Gold Bug” and “The Purloined Letter.”

The tone and point of view of the story is first-person, a fact which immediately eliminates any suspense or uncertainty about whether the narrator dies in the pit. The story’s language is typical of the so-called “inescapable predicament” story of the time; it is melodramatic and highly emotional, filled with exclamations and declarations of horror and disgust for which the narrator says he has no name. The highly stylized language and highly charged tone are indicative of the narrator’s dilemma, but also were a common nineteenth-century literary convention.

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