The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

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What prevents the narrator from killing the old man in the first seven nights in "The Tell-Tale Heart"?

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The narrator describes his attempts and readiness to commit the murder. He creeps into the old man's room just at midnight, for seven nights in a row, though he finds that he cannot bring himself to do the deed as he intends. He says that each time he creeps into the room, he sees that:

[...] the eye [is] always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed [him], but his Evil Eye.

The narrator of the story does not hate the old man -- in fact, he says that he loves the old man! -- he only hates the eye. If the eye is not open, then the narrator is not incited to feel the rage and the fear that he needs in order to kill the man. However on the eighth night, the narrator says, the old man's eye:

[...] was open -- wide, wide open -- and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness -- all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones [...].

Only the sight of the old man's "vulture" eye can drive the narrator to the extreme emotional lengths he must feel in order to go through with the murder. When he could not see the eye, he could not kill the man, but now that the eye is visible to him, his adrenaline begins to pump and he can.

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mperez-mugg21 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In "The Tell-Tale Heart", the narrator claims that his primary motive for killing the old man is the old man's hideous "Evil Eye", which frightens and horrifies him. He is convinced that they eye itself is evil and determines that he must extinguish it. Because his issue is with the "Evil Eye" and not the old man himself, the narrator feels that the "Evil Eye" must be open in order for him to go through with the murder. On the first seven nights, the narrator enters the room silently and the old man is asleep so that he never has the opportunity to extinguish the eye. Finally, on the last night, the narrator makes a noise when opening his lantern which wakes the old man. The narrator shines his lantern upon the "Evil Eye" and finally has the opportunity to extinguish it by killing the old man.

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