What is the conflict in "The Open Window" and why?

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ms-mcgregor's profile pic

ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The conflict of the story is both internal and external. Nuttel has been set to the country in order to settle his nerves. Internally, he is unstable. When Vera discovers this, she begins to challenge him externally by making up a story about the death of the husband in order to scare Nuttel when the husband returns. Nuttel is so frightened when he sees the husband that he bolts from the room, Internally, his nerves cannot stand the shock. Externally, Vera has been successful in scaring Nuttle and thereby getting him Nuttel to leave.

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Framton Nuttel is here at the Sappletons' country home only because he is suffering from what he calls a "nervous disorder." He is looking for the peace and quiet he expects the English countryside to provide. Vera is young and in perfect physical and mental condition. It is Vera who causes all the uproar. She is trying to "spook" Framton with a ghost story, and he would be resistant to believing in the truth of her story because he is an adult and should know that such things do not really happen. So it might be said that the conflict involves Vera's efforts to make Framton believe that the three hunters, when they appear outside the open window, will be ghosts returning from the bog where they were sucked down three years earlier.

The open window is the first piece of evidence Vera uses to persuade Framton of the truth of her story. There can be no doubt that the tall window must be standing open to admit someone who is expected to enter from outside. Vera knows her aunt so well that she knows almost word for word what the rather eccentric woman will say when she appears. Mrs. Sappleton substantiates part of Vera's ghost story by explaining that she is waiting for her husband and her two younger brothers to return from hunting through that open window. This is what Vera has already told Framton--except that Vera told him her aunt has been waiting for these men for three years! 

Vera's objective has not yet been realized. Then Mrs. Sappleton, as the girl expected, contributes to the desired final effect.

“Here they are at last!” she cried. “Just in time for tea, and don’t they look as if they were muddy up to the eyes!”

Framton is facing Mrs. Sappleton and cannot see the open window. Still clinging to his fragile composure, Framton turns to look at Vera to show he understands what a trial her aunt must be with her constant waiting for her husband's return. But Vera is using her acting talent to create the effect she desires.

Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the niece with a look intended to convey sympathetic comprehension. The child was staring out through the open window with dazed horror in her eyes. In a chill shock of nameless fear Framton swung round in his seat and looked in the same direction. In the deepening twilight three figures were walking across the lawn towards the window; they all carried guns under their arms. . .

Framton Nuttel is the perfect victim for this mischievous girl. His reaction may be even better than she expected. He is already a nervous wreck, and the sight of three approaching men who must be ghosts is too much. He goes running out of the house and up the country road in a panic. The fact that these "ghosts" all have guns makes them all the more terrifying. 

Why does Vera want to frighten poor Framton? She is bored with her confinement to this isolated house where nobody ever talks about anything but shooting birds. She is young and would like to have a little variety and a little excitement in her life. In fact, she wants just the opposite of what Framton wants. 

“The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical exercise,” announced Framton, who labored under the tolerably wide-spread delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least detail of one’s ailments and infirmities, their cause and cure.

renelane's profile pic

renelane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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The conflict is that of reality versus imagination. What is real and what is not. It is hard for Mr. Nuttle to know the difference, and this is true for the reader , as well.


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