A Fear Of Death: Edgar Allan Poe's The Pit And The Pendulum

2876 words - 12 pages

Death is unavoidable no matter the circumstances. However, how one dies, that is a subject of the unknown. In the end, if one had the choice of how to die, the decisions could fluctuate between countless possibilities. It is a natural human instinct to fear death because of the unknown and Edgar Allan Poe does not deny this claim. In Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum, the narrator of the story is tormented in a prison during the Spanish Inquisition; this fear of death is created from natural human instincts. The fear of the narrator creates a raw, psychological human reaction that, by natural instinct generates a confrontation with the unconscious Self.
Poe’s themes in his poems and short stories reveal a Gothic look on the world that includes morbid imagery that some people would not be comfortable with reading. In The Pit and the Pendulum, the narrator has to make a drastic decision that not most would have to make: the choice of how to die. Although, the true horror of The Pit and the Pendulum is not just a matter of the choice of death, I believe it is also in the horror of no matter the result, he will die either way. Death in this situation is unavoidable and creates a strain in the human subconscious because of the natural human instinct to want to live. Burduck in his book Grim Phantasms: Fear in Poe’s Short Fiction writes that “of all the emotions by and affecting the mind, feat most intrigued Poe” (5). Poe’s use of fear is seen throughout many of his works and The Pit and the Pendulum is a prime example of this. The narrator in the story is put into an underground dungeon that he cannot get out of. The darkness encompassing him brings a “fearful idea” to his mind and in the dark waves his arms widely about in all directions to feel something, but he does not feel anything but the air (199). The narrator, I feel, is doing what any human would do when put into a dark room, that is to feel their surroundings. Although, as he continues to step forward he dreads every step and fears every step as he breaks out into a cold sweat. The narrator fears the tomb itself and Poe creates this fear by going into precise details of the narrator’s reaction to the unknown: “Perspiration burst from every pore, and stood in cold big beads upon my forehead. The agony of suspense grew at length intolerable…” (199).
This basis of the innate human reaction to death and to fear is what is rooted in the basis of this story psychologically. The reader thus, can begin to analyze the narrator’s sense of his reality and the thought process he goes through in this tomb. Burduck continues to say that “fear is an innate emotion rooted deep in the mind…if fear is real, then those Poe tales dealing with this basic emotion center upon an important reality of existence” (6). For a true psychoanalysis to occur, the works of Carl Jung cannot be ignored. Jung, a famous psychologist, created ways to look at a person’s psyche and to look into the depths of the varieties...

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