By Michael Cook (auth.)
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Additional resources for Narratives of Enclosure in Detective Fiction: The Locked Room Mystery
This is because, in his ﬁrst appearance to the signalman, the spectre has used the phrase ‘Halloa! Below there! ’51 When the spectre next appears the same phrase is repeated yet again and, in depicting his death, prompts the ﬁnal version of the warning, which the engine driver will repeat before the signalman is run down. The second purpose of the frame of repetition is to limit the scope of the narrative by enclosing the story of the signalman’s experiences; as a result the whole reads like a story within a story.
This adds to the impression that in some way the signalman is responsible for his own death by abandoning his former diligence and surrendering to the spectre’s warnings, which are, signiﬁcantly, repeated by the engine driver. Since the spectre appears exclusively to the signalman, the conclusion that it is a product of his unconscious is not hard to make. What repeatedly returns to haunt him is the warning of death, a death which ultimately turns out to be his own. So, while the signalman is able to come to terms with his physical surroundings, the locked room of his own psyche allows only the vision of death to escape.
Accordingly, the next torture begins in the form of metal walls, which emanate heat and close mechanically on their victim. In one sense ‘The Pit and the Pendulum’ represents Poe’s response to the detective story, a subversion of the dominance of reason, a vision of an arbitrary world of cruelty. This dislocation quite literally renders the locked room of ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ inside out, a place where the normal rules of logic and order do not apply. But this conclusion alone would be too simplistic, in that the prisoner is condemned to torture by the Inquisition, which, as the dominant force in the outside world, should, if the detective story is to be believed, represent what passes for order.