Edgar Allan Poe quickly creates a mood of horror and psychological terror in the opening scenes of "The Tell-Tale Heart." It soon becomes evident that the narrator is mad, though he continually asserts that he is sane, and it seems important to him that the reader believes him to be so. But a sane man would not make the contradictory statements uttered by the narrator. Though he claims to love the old man--who has "never wronged me... had never given me insult"--he has decided to kill him because
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...
Most of the action takes place at night, an appropriate setting for the evil that is about to unfold, and the old man seems to have no inkling of what is about to happen to him. Poe builds the suspense by allowing the narrator to slowly plan the old man's death, looking in upon him each night at midnight; but because the old man's eye is always closed, the narrator refuses to kill him: The eye must be open before the narrator commits the deed.
When the deadly murder is finally committed, the gruesome nature of the story intensifies: The narrator "dismembered the corpse," burying the body beneath the floor. But it is no perfect crime: A cry has been heard and policemen soon arrive, an ominous sign that the narrator's careful planning may have been in vain. Poe suspensefully builds to the finale, the beating heart--unheard by the police--eventually driving the madman to a confession.