What can you infer from the third paragraph of "The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe?

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the first paragraph of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," we meet the narrator of this story. Though he tries to assure us that he is not "mad" (crazy, insane, mentally ill), we are not convinced. In the second paragraph we meet the object of the narrator's loathing, a man who has never done anything but be kind to the narrator; in fact, the narrator loves the man. In the third paragraph, the narrator says this: 

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded --with what caution --with what foresight --with what dissimulation I went to work!

He tells us he has made a plan and is quite proud of the stealth and deceit with which he conducts it, and for the first time he uses the word "kill." As the narrator outlines his actions, we can infer that he is slowly but deliberately setting the stage for his murder of the man. 

Every night for seven nights at midnight, he quietly opens the door to the man's bedroom, inserts a darkened lantern into the room, puts his head into the room, and then opens the lantern until a single ray of light shines from the lantern directly into the man's "vulture eye." Unfortunately for the narrator (fortunately for the man), the eye was always closed--the "Evil Eye" which, he says, is the only reason he wants to kill the man. 

We can assume this plan is the forerunner to a murder which comes later; for now, we have a stealthy schemer who will spend excruciatingly long minutes just to get his head and lantern into a room. It is clear that the speaker will one day find the man's eye open and will do what he has planned.

To add insult to injury, the narrator 

was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before [he] killed him.  

Every morning, the narrator boldly walks into the man's room, knowing the man could not possibly suspect what the narrator has been doing every night. The younger man is self-satisfied and confident that he will completely and irrevocably fool the old man. We can infer that the narrator seems to take great pleasure not just in plotting the murder but ensuring that the man is clueless until the moment it happens. 

The paragraph represents the week of groundwork for what we presume will happen: a murder. We can also infer what has only been suggested: the narrator is mad. He wants us to be proud of him, but we can only be appalled by what we know is coming.

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