We bring you Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” in one terrifying rap song. The lyrics summarize the plot of Poe’s classic tale of torture. First, the narrator gets thrown in prison, and then he’s surrounded by darkness. Accompany him as he discovers the pit, the pendulum, maniacally hungry rats and scalding walls, but from the comfort of your own chair. Will he ever escape from this chamber of horrors?
"The Pit and the Pendulum" is set in the time of the Spanish Inquisition, a brutal program established in Spain in the late 1400s. The Inquisition was created under Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, the same royals who financed Columbus's trip to the Americas. During the Inquisition, the order was simple and lethal: convert to Catholicism, or die. During this time period, ruthless judges ordered Jews, Protestants and even some Catholics to be tortured or killed if they didn't convert.
The narrator of the story has just been sentenced to death under the Inquisition. We are never told why he was sentenced to death, but considering the time period, you can safely guess that the verdict wasn't fair.
The narrator is so shocked by his death sentence that he faints. As a result of his loss of consciousness, the narrator is confused about where he is when he wakes up. He assumes he's in some sort of prison, but he doesn't know what it looks like because it is so dark. Have you ever been in a space that's so dark you can't even see your hand when you wave it in front of your face?
The narrator is also confused because, as Poe wrote, "The condemned to death, I knew, perished usually at the auto-da-fes." The auto-da-fes were public hearings (and usually hangings) for those sentenced in the Inquisition. But the narrator is alone, and so he's clearly not at an auto-da-fe.
The simile "wrapped in it like a coat" suggests that the dark atmosphere of the prison is almost smothering the narrator.
Alone with the mysteries of darkness in his cell, the narrator has nothing to do but consider how he will die.
The narrator has just realized that there is a massive hole in the middle of his cell. (He happened to notice the pit when he almost fell into it and died). And he's about to find out that there are other horrors besides the pit.
If the narrator had taken high school physics, he could have easily figured out the exact depth of the well using this formula: distance = 1/2 x acceleration x time
. Acceleration is constant at 9.8m/s
. The time is how long it takes for him to hear the pebble hit the water after he drops it.
Poe says it took "many seconds" for the pebble to splash in the water. Let's call it 5 seconds, to stay on the safe side. That would mean the pit is at least 122 meters, or 400 feet deep! That's as long as a 40-story building.
But even without the ability to calculate this, the narrator was right in his estimations: falling into the pit would equal certain death.
The slow-moving pendulum causes the narrator to become even more anxious. This enormous blade is going to kill him-but he's going to have to wait, terrified, as it slowly moves down. And he is going to have to wait awhile. Poe wrote, "down and still down it came! Days passed-it might have been that many days passed." It is hard to tell time in complete darkness.
The narrator is afraid that the rats will eat him, after they finish eating the meat, until he gets an idea . . .
Well, he might have yelled that. Poe wrote that the narrator "alternately laughed and howled." Why do you think he might have been laughing?
The narrator is being clever here. He realizes that he can get the rats to chew through the straps that are holding him under the pendulum. It would be pretty unpleasant to have 100 rats on your chest, but the alternative here is much worse. Luckily for the narrator, the rats free him just in time!
By this point, the narrator has realized that his captors probably have some other form of torture in store. And he's right.
The narrator can't think of any clever way to escape now. He has realized that he can either get burnt to death by the hot walls or fall into the pit. With no options, he resorts to crying.
And this moment truly exemplifies one of the themes of the story: knowing you are going to die is scarier than actually dying.
People have come to stop the Inquisition! Maybe they will save him!
Just when the narrator thinks that all hope is lost, a mysterious person grabs his arm and saves him from falling into the pit. This "happy" ending differentiates "The Pit and the Pendulum" from most of Poe's other tales. We never really learn the identity of the person who saves the narrator. Instead, the story opens with fear and ends with relief. The context and background are as mysterious and dark as the narrator's cell.
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