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Teacher's Guide to "The Pit and the Pendulum": Activities, Lesson Plans, Summary and Analysis

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/14/2012

High school students struggle with Edgar Allan Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum," but don't let that stop you from teaching it. Find lesson plans for "The Pit and the Pendulum," activities and analysis with this teacher's guide to one of Poe's best short stories.

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    The Pit and the Pendulum Activities: Write a Review

    This teacher's guide takes the form of one of one of the most effective "Pit and the Pendulum" activities for teaching analysis and writing about literature.

    Have each student do the following after reading the story:

    1. Write a brief "Pit and the Pendulum" summary, 100-200 words.
    2. Write a brief analysis of "The Pit and the Pendulum" extolling its literary merit, 150-200 words.
    3. List 3 or 4 "Pit and the Pendulum" Activities or lesson plans for "The Pit and the Pendulum" in a bulleted list.
    4. Give each section a rating of 1-5 stars.

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    Summary of "The Pit and the Pendulum"

    Edgar Allan Poe 2 

    The narrator is sentenced to death by a tribunal during the Spanish Inquisition. He faints. He awakes in a cell and is unable to see. As he awaits his fate, the prisoner undergoes physical and mental torment.

    The narrator decides to explore his surroundings by walking along the wall, leaving a coarse piece of cloth as a landmark. Before he is able to circumnavigate the cell, he trips on his robe and falls asleep. He wakes up, devours food left for him, and walks across the cell. He trips and realizes he narrowly missed falling into a pit. He falls asleep. He awakes. He eats. He falls asleep. He awakes and finds the cell dimly lit and that he's been tied to a wooden plank.

    A pendulum shaped like a scythe swings back and forth above him, slowly making its way toward the prisoner. Meanwhile, rats have come up from the pit and eaten the prisoner's food. The prisoner rubs food on his ropes and seconds before the pendulum/scythe cuts him in half, the rats chew through the ropes and the narrator escapes.

    The next torment involves the walls of the cell heating up and moving inward, forcing the narrator toward the pit. Moments before plummeting into the abyss, the walls retract. General LaSalle's army has emancipated the prison.

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    Analysis of "The Pit and the Pendulum"

    Teach the following as part of your analysis of "The Pit and the Pendulum."

    • "The Pit and the Pendulum" Symbolism: Although the events in the story create suspense and interest, its the story's deeper meaning that makes it so good. An analysis of the pit (death or hell), the scythe/pendulum (time and death), and the angelic forms of the Inquisitorial tribune (angels of death) are three of many symbols in the novel.
    • The Spanish Inquisition: The Inquisition sought to rid the church of heretical views. They got a little carried away.
    • Sensory Details: The description of rats on the narrator's lips is Poe at his finest. Poe's description of the cell, the pit, and the judges provide examples of sensory details.
    • Suspense: Dangerous action, foreshadowing and pacing combine to keep readers on the edge of their seat.
    • Setting and Mood:The cell and the pit take on a life of their own. The story's backdrop of the Inquisition adds to the ominous mood.
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    Lesson Plans for "The Pit and the Pendulum"

    Use these lesson plans for "The Pit and the Pendulum" as part of your short story curriculum.

    1. Use and adapt this teaching symbolism in literature lesson plan. "The Pit and the Pendulum" symbolism includes the pit, the pendulum, the white faced judges, the cell, and the rats.
    2. Adapt this sensory details lesson plan to teach "The Pit and the Pendulum." The following reminders will help students visualize the scene:
      • Form a mental picture of where the narrator is and what's going on around him.
      • Make note of precise nouns, verbs, and modifiers to bring the story's setting into focus.
    3. Teach suspense with this Edgar Allan Poe teaching suspense lesson plan.
    4. Make posters illustrating scenes from the story. Another option is to make a movie poster that includes a scene from the story and a list of actors who would be ideal for the role of narrator and Inquisitors. If you're really feeling creative, make a soundtrack.
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    For a complete semester standards based curriculum guide, follow the link.