Analyzing the Text
The story is meant to incite terror at gratuitous violence. The beginning shows this as even the awaiting of the sentence is full of unnecessary terror (foreshadowing what is to come later). The narrator finds terror in the visual aspects of things: the “black-robbed judges” (17), the whiteness of their faces (17) and their grotesque thinness (18). We are warned against relying on our senses when the narrator swoons while waiting, and “the figures of the judges vanishes, as if magically,” (36-7). All this builds into a fear of what can be seen and the horror of unnecessary terror.
The uncertainty suggests that the narrator has been drugged (222) but it also tells us that he is greatly frightened and confused by what is happening to him.
We know he is a sensible person because he thinks to count and trace the distance of his cage (168-9). We also know he is sensible in the appropriate fear and acknowledgment of his fear, “now I was the veriest of cowards” (215-6). We know he can read (217). We see further proof of his intelligence (which helps him survive his ordeal) when he thinks of plan to get out of the surcingle (407-435).
Oppression: “The intensity of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me”(103-4); “They pressed — they swarmed upon me in ever accumulating heaps… I was half stifled by their thronging pressure” (428-30); “could I withstand its pressure?” (505); “the closing walls pressed me resistlessly onward” (509). The strong feeling of oppression enhances the terror felt by both the character and the reader. All these moments of oppression make the story feel claustrophobic and uncomfortable. It enhances the sensation of freedom when he is pulled out of the room, like a breath of fresh air. This feeling of oppression is important to the story’s central idea of visual perception, as the oppression felt by the narrator is a visual oppression that translates into the physical.