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Tension in The Pit and the Pendulum

Edgar Allan Poe was a master of creating tension in his writings. Below is a passage
from Poes short story, The Pit and the Pendulum. In the story, the narrator has been
convicted during the Spanish Inquisition of an unnamed crime and sentenced to death. He
is tied on the oor and a large, sharp blade is swinging back and forth towards his body.

T
he vibration of the pendulum was rightto the leftfar and widewith the
at right angles to my length. I saw shriek of a damned spirit; to my heart with
that the crescent was designed to the stealthy pace of the tiger! I alternately
cross the region of the heart. It would fray laughed and howled as the one or the other
the serge of my robeit would return and idea grew predominant.
repeat its operationsagainand again. Downcertainly, relentlessly down! It
Notwithstanding terrically wide sweep vibrated within three inches of my bosom! I
(some thirty feet or more) and the hissing struggled violently, furiously, to free my left
vigor of its descent, sufcient to sunder arm. This was free only from the elbow to
these very walls of iron, still the fraying the hand. I could reach the latter, from the
of my robe would be all that, for several platter beside me, to my mouth, with great
minutes, it would accomplish. And at this effort, but no farther. Could I have broken
thought I paused. I dared not go farther the fastenings above the elbow, I would
than this reection. I dwelt upon it with have seized and attempted to arrest the
a pertinacity of attentionas if, in so pendulum. I might as well have attempted
dwelling, I could arrest here the descent to arrest an avalanche!
of the steel. I forced myself to ponder upon Downstill unceasinglystill inevitably
the sound of the crescent as it should pass down! I gasped and struggled at each
across the garmentupon the peculiar vibration. I shrunk convulsively at its
thrilling sensation which the friction of cloth every sweep. My eyes followed its outward
produces on the nerves. I pondered upon all or upward whirls with the eagerness of
this frivolity until my teeth were on edge. the most unmeaning despair; they closed
Downsteadily down it crept. I took themselves spasmodically at the descent,
a frenzied pleasure in contrasting its although death would have been a relief, oh!
downward with its lateral velocity. To the how unspeakable!

How does Poe add tension to the passage? Use text examples to support your analysis.
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Copyright 2012 K12reader.com. All Rights Reserved. Free for educational use at home or in classrooms. www.k12reader.com
Tension in The Pit and the Pendulum
Edgar Allan Poe was a master of creating tension in his writings. Below is a passage
from Poes short story, The Pit and the Pendulum. In the story, the narrator has been
convicted during the Spanish Inquisition of an unnamed crime and sentenced to death. He
is tied on the oor and a large, sharp blade is swinging back and forth towards his body.

T
he vibration of the pendulum was rightto the leftfar and widewith the
at right angles to my length. I saw shriek of a damned spirit; to my heart with
that the crescent was designed to the stealthy pace of the tiger! I alternately
cross the region of the heart. It would fray laughed and howled as the one or the other
the serge of my robeit would return and idea grew predominant.
repeat its operationsagainand again. Downcertainly, relentlessly down! It
Notwithstanding terrically wide sweep vibrated within three inches of my bosom! I
(some thirty feet or more) and the hissing struggled violently, furiously, to free my left
vigor of its descent, sufcient to sunder arm. This was free only from the elbow to
these very walls of iron, still the fraying the hand. I could reach the latter, from the
of my robe would be all that, for several platter beside me, to my mouth, with great
minutes, it would accomplish. And at this effort, but no farther. Could I have broken
thought I paused. I dared not go farther the fastenings above the elbow, I would
than this reection. I dwelt upon it with have seized and attempted to arrest the
a pertinacity of attentionas if, in so pendulum. I might as well have attempted
dwelling, I could arrest here the descent to arrest an avalanche!
of the steel. I forced myself to ponder upon Downstill unceasinglystill inevitably
the sound of the crescent as it should pass down! I gasped and struggled at each
across the garmentupon the peculiar vibration. I shrunk convulsively at its
thrilling sensation which the friction of cloth every sweep. My eyes followed its outward
produces on the nerves. I pondered upon all or upward whirls with the eagerness of
this frivolity until my teeth were on edge. the most unmeaning despair; they closed
Downsteadily down it crept. I took themselves spasmodically at the descent,
a frenzied pleasure in contrasting its although death would have been a relief, oh!
downward with its lateral velocity. To the how unspeakable!

How does Poe add tension to the passage? Use text examples to support your analysis.
Actual answers will vary. Some points that may be included:
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1) Poe uses repetition to mimic the swing of the pendulum blade and to bring the
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reader into the scene. He starts three paragraphs with Down.
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2) He adds sensory language to allow the reader to feel, hear and see the scene, e.g.
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hissing vigor, and peculiar thrilling sensation and My eyes followed its outward
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or upward whirls.
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3) Poe describes the narrators emotions alternating between hysteria and fear, as in
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I alternately laughed and howled, and I pondered upon all this frivolity until my
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teeth were on edge.

Copyright 2012 K12reader.com. All Rights Reserved. Free for educational use at home or in classrooms. www.k12reader.com