The Pit and the Pendulum Summary

The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe


The short story "The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe is one of the more difficult stories to comprehend. It features a first-person narrator and the creepy mood, typical of so many of his stories. It begins with the narrator being sentenced to death by a judge for what seem to be crimes related to the Spanish Inquisition. The narrator nearly fainted when he thought of his impending death and pondered the afterlife. Then some tall figures carried him down into a dark, frightening room, which scared him so much that he didn't want to open his eyes.


Eventually, he tried to look around but blackness surrounded him. He reached out and felt something damp and hard, which made him wonder where he could be. He assumed it was some type of dungeon in the Spanish city of Toledo, known for housing criminals during the Inquisition. He started convulsing at the thought of how he was meant to die. Would it be starvation? The means and the time until his final moment were the only thoughts to occupy his mind.


He decided to try to figure out the dimensions of the room he was in, but the room appeared to a circle, so he had no way of knowing from where he began counting paces. He wanted to stick a knife or something into the stone wall to mark his spot, but his clothes had been taken. His fatigue overtook him, and he fell asleep.


When he woke up, he found a loaf of bread and pitcher of water beside him, so he ate and drank. He tried pacing again and decided the room to be around fifty yards in circumferences. As he walked his robe became entangled in something, and he fell. What surprised him was that his head did not hit the ground but floated above an opening that emitted a strong odor. He reached forward and found a circular pit, which seemed to lead to a vast abyss below. Happy, that he had not fallen into it, he groped his way back to the wall.


His thirst drove him to drink more water, but he suspected the water had been drugged because he soon found himself strangely tired. However, the next time he looked around, he found he could see more clearly. The circuit of the room was less than twenty-five yards around with many angles and irregularities along the way which made it more of a square than he had realized. The walls appeared to be made of metal. In the center he saw the circular pit. He also noticed that while he had slept, someone had strapped him down to the floor. As he looked up, he noticed a gigantic pendulum swinging slowly back and forth.


A noise distracted him and he noticed several enormous rats headed his way. As he looked back up at the pendulum, he found that it was descending at a slow pace as it swung. He realized the way he would die. Time passed as he struggled to escape the straps that held him. The pendulum had nearly reached his body. He saw that it was aligned with his heart. He realized that the pendulum was aligned so that it would cut him but not cut the bandages that held him. His next plan involved taking some of the remnants of food he'd been given and rubbing it onto the straps within his reach. He then lay perfectly still waiting for the rats to smell it and come after it. They climbed upon him and chewed at the straps as they sat upon his neck and chest. Agonizingly, he waited until at last he was able to free himself from the bonds and move out of the path of the pendulum.


As soon as he was free, the pendulum stopped. Clearly, he was being watched. He then noticed light coming from the bottom of the walls, which seemed to be detached from the floor. The walls began to close in, pushing him toward the pit in the center. Looking down, he realized he couldn't escape. With just a small amount of space left, he heard voices and trumpets. The walls receded as an arm reached out to grab his own. General Lasalle of the French army had saved him.




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