Poe's story is both a fictional account of one of people's worst nightmares and an allegory of the most basic human dilemma. The stark details of the story suggest its universal theme. It begins with the protagonist's being sentenced to death, although he does not seem to be guilty of any crime; his judges are only shadowy, black-robed figures without identity; and he is thrown into absolute darkness, which makes it difficult for him to know whether his experience is a reality or a nightmare. In fact, many aspects of the story suggest that what Poe is trying to create here is a dream experience. Even the conclusion, when the narrator is saved from the pit by the sudden arrival of the French army, seems like the awakening from a nightmare.