The story begins with the unnamed narrator wanting to prove his sanity to the readers. He lived in the same building as an old man with a “vulture eye”. As the story progresses, the reader learns that the narrator has become upset by the old man’s eye, which is a piercing blue color, with a white film over it. Tension builds as the narrator describes how his obsession has taken over, and he plots to kill the old man to get rid of the eye's gaze. Each night, the narrator goes into the old man’s room as he sleeps, intending to kill him. He cannot do it when the man is asleep, because his eyes are shut, and he looks peaceful. One night, the narrator creeps in and startles the old man, who screams. As the narrator glares at the eye, he finally musters the strength to rid himself of the eye and smothers the old man with his mattress. The narrator meticulously hides the body under the floorboards.
Soon after, the police arrive because a neighbor heard a scream. The narrator covers up the incident by saying the old man is out of town, and that the scream came from him. As the police are looking around, the narrator begins to hear a peculiar ticking sound; he quickly becomes mad as the sound grows fiercer in his mind. To the narrator, he believes he is hearing the sound of the old man’s heart still beating, finally leading him to confess in a moment of insanity.