In "The Tell-Tale Heart," why does the narrator kill the old man?

In "The Tell-Tale Heart," the narrator claims to have killed the old man because he hated the appearance of the man's eye. However, his murderous actions are actually a reflection of his madness. The reasoning behind the narrator's crime undermines his argument that he is sane and proves his mental instability.

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In the second paragraph of Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart," the wholly unreliable narrator—who, despite his protestations to the contrary, is clearly insane— explains his reason for killing the old man who lives in the house with him.

"It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain," the narrator writes, "but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. " The narrator begins by writing that he had no reason, no "object," for killing the old man, even while he explains why he killed him.

"Passion there was none," he writes, although, as the story unfolds, it's apparent that he's passionate about killing the old man who he also admits he loves but whose declaration of love is negated by the fact that he kills him.

The narrator notes, "He had never given me insult," although it's evident from his act of killing the old man that the narrator took offense at something that prompted the narrator to kill him.

I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

There it is. The reason that the narrator kills the old man is to rid himself of what he later calls the old man's "Evil eye."

Or is it the reason he kills him?

As the story unfolds, the narrator seems to forget about the old man's "Evil eye," his "vulture eye," and becomes increasingly obsessed with the old man's beating heart. At first, the old man's heart makes just a "low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton," but the sound of the old man's beating heart grows increasingly louder, to a "hellish tattoo," and the narrator becomes increasingly terrified and increasingly furious at the sound.

But the berating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me—the sound would be heard by a neighbour!

It's virtually impossible that a neighbor would hear the old man's beating heart, but with that irrational thought in his mind, and with the uncontrollable rage he feels toward the old man's beating heart, the narrator leaps out of hiding and into the old man's room. He drags the old man to the floor, and pulls his heavy bed over him, crushing and suffocating him. It's only then, after the old man's heart stops beating and he's dead, "stone dead," that the narrator again mentions the old man's "Evil eye."

His eye would trouble me no more.

Ridding himself of the old man's "vulture eye" might have provided the initial motivation for the narrator to kill him, but it seems more like an afterthought now that the old man is dead. It's the old man's beating heart which ultimately enrages the narrator to such an extent that he commits murder, and it's the beating of the old man's heart that the narrator hears even after the old man's death that ultimately leads him to shout out his confession of the murder.

After all, Poe titled the story "The Tell-Tale Heart," not "The Evil Eye."

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The narrator himself isn't entirely sure why he killed the old man. In fact, he begins by admitting that he isn't sure "how first the idea entered [his] brain." He goes on to concede that he loved the old man and that there wasn't any particular animosity between them. The narrator claims he never wanted the man's money, and then he seemingly tries to convince himself that the old man deserved death because of his eye:

I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it.

The narrator seems to stumble on a justification, using exclamations to mark his emotional response to discovering a "valid" reason for his murderous acts.

Of course, the true reason that the narrator kills the old man is because he is mad. In the first sentence, he seems to be responding to some accusation that he is not sane:

TRUE!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?

He then references a "disease" which has made his senses even more acute. His protests that he is not actually mad are full of indignation, yet any rational reader will realize that sane men do not commit murder over the appearance of an eye. In the end, the narrator also "hears" the heartbeat of the man whom he has killed, which is further indication of his disconnect with sanity. He is so convinced that the now-dismembered man's heart is still beating that he confesses to his crime.

While the narrator believes that he has killed the old man in order to forever rid himself of the man's "vulture" eye, his actions are actually a reflection of his madness.

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Simply put, the narrator is crazy. A more developed answer might be, the narrator is unbalanced. Because he thinks he can hear the old man's heart, he thinks others can too. Therefore, he kills the old man to protect himself from being discovered. This can be seen in this passage: " But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me—the sound would be heard by a neighbour!"

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This is a straightforward question which even the narrator cannot answer with clarity. He isn't sure how the idea of murder first came to him and admits that he "loved the old man." The old man had never committed any transgressions against the narrator, and he didn't want the man's money.

The narrator seems to stumble upon his reasoning for murder almost by accident:

I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye for ever.

With the narrator's inclusion of thinking it was the eye that drove him to murder, followed by the exclamation, it seems that he is trying to convince himself of his motives. Of course, people don't murder others because of an odd-looking eye, so all of this together can only mean one thing: the narrator is not mentally stable.

Therefore, the real reason for murder is that these are the actions of an insane man. Although he tries to convince his audience from the first lines that he is sane, there is no support for sanity in his actions. In fact, his subconscious eventually catches up with him in the end, and he admits to the murder because he is convinced that the heart of the man he has dismembered beats loudly underneath the floor where he is hidden.

The narrator's unstable mental abilities are the ultimate source of his desire to murder a man whom he claims he loved.

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In Poe's celebrated short story "The Tell-Tale Heart," the mentally deranged, unreliable narrator attempts to convince the audience that he is sane while he vividly describes how he murdered and dismembered an old man. The narrator admits that the old man's pale blue eye motivated him to commit the violent crime. The narrator describes the old man's eye as being evil and is preoccupied with the idea of destroying the "vulture" eye at all costs. Whenever the narrator sees the old man's evil eye, he becomes incensed with rage and his blood runs cold. The reasoning behind the narrator's motivation to kill the old man is perplexing and unsettling, and it completely undermines his argument that he is sane.

The audience recognizes that the narrator is mentally ill and that his argument involving the old man's pale eye is a ridiculous, irrational reason to commit murder. Nonetheless, the narrator is determined to prove his sanity by describing the careful precautions he took before executing the violent crime. The narrator proceeds to peek into the old man's room each night but is not able to commit the crime, because his eye is closed. On the eighth night, the narrator finally looks into the old man's evil eye and attacks him. After smothering the old man to death, the narrator dismembers his body and hides his remains underneath the floorboards. However, the narrator is not able to maintain his composure in front of the police and eventually admits to murdering the old man.

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A very good question, and one which the narrator of the story cannot really answer, although it seems he has wrestled with it. Note that the narrator continually toys with, and then rejects, the idea that he is "mad," and that it is this "disease" that has led him to do what he has done. As a reader, we can determine that this is probably the case—after all, the narrator says there was no "object" to his killing of the old man, whom he loved, and he could not say when the thought first entered his mind. The only thing he can think is that the old man's pale, filmy, blue eye, which made him feel judged or unhappy whenever it landed upon him—he calls it the eye of a "vulture"—drove him to kill the old man. He couldn't stand being looked at by that terrible eye which made his "blood [run] cold," and eventually this preoccupation led him to murder the man, just so that he could escape the eye.

Ultimately, of course, he does not escape anything—the murder of the old man is only the beginning of the narrator's problems, as the story tells.

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As the narrator mentions, he has no explicit reason for killing the old man. No relationship between them is mentioned; he is possibly the old man's son or nephew, or a live-in caretaker. Of course, it must be remembered that the narrator is unreliable; despite his protestations to the contrary, he is clearly insane to some degree, and possibly also delusional (one interpretation is that he never killed the old man at all, and that is why there is no blood). In the opening, he states:

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this!
(Poe, "The Tell-Tale Heart")

The narrator is suffering from an extreme version of morbid irritation; he finds the presence of the old man's "vulture eye" intolerable, and instead of searching for other employment or other living circumstances, he decides that the only rational solution is to murder the old man, thus ridding himself of the "vulture eye." His focus is on the eye itself, as he is unable to kill the old man until the eye is open and visible. However, considering how unreliable he is, it is impossible to say that greed or some other justification is not responsible for his actions.

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