The Lumber Room

by Saki

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Can you explain "The Lumber Room" by Saki?

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Nicholas has a plan.  He cannot have the rest of the family around when he initiates this plan. So, the rest of the family is taking a trip to the sands at Jagboroug.  Nick is not invited.  In fact, the trip is meant to be a punishment for Nicholas.   Everyone else is sent with the idea of having fun, but Nicholas has to stay home.  Nicholas plans it this way.  He creates an altercation with his caretakers.   He tells them that his bread-and-milk has a frog in it.   

“Older, wiser, and better people had told him there could not possibly be a frog in his bread-and-milk and that he was not to talk nonsense…” (pg. 1)

He continues his complaint.  There is, in fact, a frog in his bread-and-milk because he put it there himself.  So, for a punishment, his cousin’s aunt has arranged for his younger brother and his two cousins to take a trip to Jagborough.  Nick is to be left behind.

They expect a few tears from Nick, but he seems content as they drive off. In fact, he has planned this.  His so-called aunt, because we, the reader, do not really know his relationship to this woman, tries to make him feel bad, telling him that the other kids will have a wonderful time running and playing on the sand.  But Nick tells her that the kids will not have a good time, and Bobby will definitely not run because his boots are too small and hurt him. The “aunt” asks him why she hasn’t been told about the boots.

“He told you twice, but you weren’t listening.  You often don’t listen when we tell you important things.” (pg 2)

With that comment, the aunt increases the punishment and tells Nicholas that he cannot go into the gooseberry garden. Nicholas expected this.  He puts on a face that assures the aunt that he has every intention of going into the gooseberry garden that morning.  So, she stations herself in the garden within watchful range of the two possible doors.  Nicholas makes two sorry attempts to get into the garden, but he can never avoid the watchful eyes of his aunt.  However, he has now confined her to a single area, and he can move on.

“… he had no intention of trying to get into the gooseberry garden, but it was extremely convenient for him that his aunt should believe that he had:….” (pg 3)

While his aunt is busy policing the garden, he initiates his plan to get into the lumber-room.  It is a place the children are not allowed.

“Often and often Nicholas had pictured to himself what the lumber-room  might be like, that region that was so carefully sealed from youthful eyes and concerning which no questions were ever answered.”(pg 4)

He has done some research. He knows where the key is, and although he has not had much practice using keys, he has been able to practice on the school room door.  Inside he finds a “storehouse of unimagined treasures.” (pg 4). There is a framed tapestry that especially fascinates Nicholas.  It is a picture of a man hunting a deer, but there are four wolves closing in on his kill.  The man only has two arrows left.  Nicholas is fascinated with the scene.  There are other items also: candlesticks in the shape of snakes, a teapot shaped as a duck, a carved group of brass figures, and a book of colorful birds.  While he is admiring these items, he hears his aunt’s voice calling him.

He comes out into the front yard.  In the process of looking for Nicholas in the gooseberry garden, the aunt has slipped into the rainwater tank.  She can’t get out because the sides are too slippery, and she needs Nicholas to get her a ladder from the gooseberry garden.  Nicholas knows he can now tease his "aunt". He responds that he isn’t allowed in the gooseberry garden so he cannot get the ladder for her.  She tells him it is Ok, but he, teasingly, says that she doesn't  sound like his aunt. 

 “You may be the Evil One tempting me to be disobedient.  Aunt often tells me that the Evil One tempts me and that I always yield.  This time I’m not going to yield.” (pg 6)

She finally promises him strawberry jam with his tea if he gets the ladder.  Nicholas cannot resist the temptation to tease her even more. He responds that he now knows she is the Evil One because his aunt told him that there wasn’t any strawberry jam. He looked in the pantry and saw that there were four jars of strawberry jam.  Now if his aunt didn’t know they were there, then the person he is talking to had to be the Evil One.

“Oh Devil, you have sold yourself!” (pg 6)

He never does get her out of the rainwater tank.  He walks noisily away and the kitchen maid has to rescue her.  Tea that afternoon is very silent.  The other children have returned from their Jagborough adventure and have had a terrible time.  The tide was at its highest, so there was no sand, and Bobby was in a terrible mood because his feet hurt.  Nicholas is silent because he is deep in thought.  He thought that maybe the hunter and his dogs did escape the wolves by letting the wolves feast on the deer.

My copy of the story comes from the internet, so my pages may not coincide with your copy.  However, the pages are sequential and you should be able to find the quotes.

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Explain the ending of the story "The Lumber Room" by Saki.

Nicholas in “The Lumber Room” is an imaginative child who suffers mentally because he has to live with a completely literal-minded aunt. Not only does she fail to appreciate his creative way of thinking, but she will not or cannot understand his explanations. When she falls into the empty tank, his decision to be equally literal and comply precisely with her instructions puts her life at risk. Realizing that his situation is hopeless, as he will never please his aunt, Nicholas retreats into the world of fantasy. The figures in the tapestry seem more real to him than his actual existence. The boy fantasizes that those figures can come alive. While he clearly identifies with the huntsman who escapes, we can infer that he sees himself as the deer set upon by wolves, or that the aunt is the deer who will be devoured.

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