Edgar Allan Poe: The Pit and the Pendulum
The Pit and the Pendulum

The Pit and the Pendulum - Study Guide

The Pit and the Pendulum (1832) is one of Edgar Allan Poe's best known gothic tales, offering plenty of literary allusions and a particularly graphic narrative. We hope this study guide is useful for teachers and students to more fully appreciate the story.

Read the story: The Pit and the Pendulum, Character Analysis & Plot Summary, Genre & Themes, Symbolism, Epigraph & Vocabulary, Inaccurate Historical Context, Quotes, Discussion Questions, Paired Readings, Useful Links, and Notes/Teacher Comments

Character Analysis & Plot Summary


Plot Summary

The Pit and the Pendulum: candles diminish as does all hope
Symbols of angels turn into meaningless spectres

Genre & Themes



Literary Elements

The Pit and the Pendulum: Rats Gnaw Him Loose
A council of rats gnaws him FREE


Poe employs many symbols or allusions that are helpful to understand their purpose.

The Pit and the Pendulum: Scimitar
Pendulum as a scimitar

Epigraph & Vocabulary

The Epigraph Sets the Tone

Interesting Vocabulary

The Pit and the Pendulum: Saved by General Lasalle
General Lasalle to the rescue, if we believe Poe

Inaccurate Historical Context

The story's historical references of torture span three centuries and two countries, which Poe mixes together for great dramatic affect. Poe expertly employs the technique of The Unreliable Narrator.

So did Poe purposefully mislead his reader with good "buzz words" for torture references, or was he demonstrating that the prisoner might not have a grasp on reality, his narrative may not be reliable because of his mental illness-- torture inside his head, rather than his physical body?

Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe


Explain what the following quotes mean and how they relate to the story:

The Pit and the Pendulum: Molten pit inspired by the Koran
"Any death but that of the pit!"

Discussion Questions

The Fall of the House of Usher
The Fall of the House of Usher: Entombment

Paired Reading Suggestions

Compare and contrast the gothic literary elements in The Pit and the Pendulum with:

A Descent Into the Maelstrom
A Descent Into the Maelstrom

Teacher Resources
A Teacher's Work Is Never Done

Notes/Teacher Comments

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