illustration of a young girl looking out a window at ghostly figures

The Open Window

by Saki

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Describe Mr. Nuttel's character in Saki's "The Open Window".

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Mr. Nuttel from “The Open Window” by Saki is a very timid, nervous man. He has very weak nerves, which is why his doctor has recommended a stay in the country. Mr. Nuttel is also somewhat credulous, as can be seen from the way that he's so easily tricked by Vera with her fictitious ghost story.

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In Saki's short story "The Open Window," Mr. Nuttel is depicted as a neurotic, gullible man who is easily excited and falls for Vera's ingenious prank. Mr. Nuttel suffers from a severe nervous condition, and his doctor advised him to visit the countryside in hopes of easing his mind and relieving his tension. This rural retreat is supposed to be relaxing, comfortable, and rejuvenating and suggests that Mr. Nuttel is stressed out and full of tension. When Mr. Nuttel arrives at Mrs. Sappleton's home, he is anxious to meet her and has even been given letters of introduction, which contributes to his portrayal as a nervous, timid man.

Unfortunately, Vera answers the door and can tell that Mr. Nuttel is an easy target. Mr. Nuttel then demonstrates his credulous nature by believing Vera's fabricated story, which makes him even more uncomfortable and apprehensive. During his conversation with Mrs. Sappleton, Mr. Nuttel elaborates on his numerous ailments. Mr. Nuttel's lack of social awareness and neurotic personality depicts him as a hypochondriac.

When Vera's prank reaches its climax, Mr. Nuttel thinks he sees several ghosts walking toward the open window and runs out of the house in terror. Mr. Nuttel's credulous, anxious personality makes him particularly susceptible to Vera's prank. Ironically, Mr. Nuttel's rural retreat has only worsened his condition by increasing his anxiety and stress.

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If there's one word that sums up Framton Nuttel, it's “nervous.” Framton is one of those poor unfortunate people with a weak nervous system, which makes it impossible for him to relax, especially in the presence of other people.

Framton must have a particularly acute strain of nervous tension, as his doctor has recommended a rest cure in the country. His well-meaning sister has given him a list of local people in the area on whom he might call, including Mrs. Sappleton. The implication is that they will do nothing to excite Framton's overwrought nerves.

Unfortunately, Framton's sister didn't factor someone like Vera, Mrs. Sappleton's niece, into the equation. As soon as Vera senses Framton's nervousness she immediately sets about trying to scare him out of his wits with a ghost story involving her uncle and his brothers-in-law.

Much to her delight, Vera pulls off the prank with considerable aplomb. But that's only because, as well as being nervous, Framton's obviously quite gullible and credulous. He'd have to be in order to believe Vera's story. The combination of gullibility with extreme nervousness proves to be irresistible for Vera, and she exploits the situation of all it's worth. Upon seeing what Framton believes to be three ghosts (along with their phantom spaniel), he flees the house in terror, likely never to return.

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In analyzing any story or part of a story, it is necessary to begin with the realization that the people are not real but are creations of an author. They are created to serve the author's needs and purposes. Saki made Framton Nuttel the kind of character he is because the author needed just such a character for the role of victim of that particular practical joke.

Framton is described in the e-notes summary as "an eccentric hypochondriac." He is an exceptionally nervous man. He has been to several doctors about his nervousness, and they have recommended a "rest cure" in the peaceful English countryside. This explains why he is calling on the Sappletons. Since he is going to a part of the country with which his sister is somewhat acquainted, she gives him the following advice.

"I know how it will be," his sister had said when he was preparing to migrate to this rural retreat; "you will bury yourself down there and not speak to a living soul, and your nerves will be worse than ever from moping. I shall just give you letters of introduction to all the people I know there. Some of them, as far as I can remember, were quite nice."

Framton's sister is a very minor character who doesn't even appear in the story. She was created by Saki for the purpose of giving Framton the letters of introduction which led to his visiting the Sappleton home and running into Vera.

The second reason Saki had for making Framton a nervous wreck is that it would take such a character to respond to the appearance of the three returning hunters as he did. A man in normal psychological condition might be frightened, but he would not behave in the manner Saki describes.

Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall door, the gravel drive, and the front gate were dimly noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid imminent collision.

So Framton is what he is because his creator made him the way he is. The same applies to Vera and to Mrs. Sappleton. The aunt is rattlebrained, and Vera knows exactly what she is going to be talking about when she makes her appearance. Vera is bored and wants to create a little excitement. A girl like her in her times would be confined to the house and would undoubtedly spend a lot of time reading escapist-type fiction. This is where she gets her wild ideas.

The characters never really existed. The events never really happened. The story is a creation, a work of art. It can be read for enjoyment. But if you want to analyze it, or any part of it, such as the character of Framton Nuttel, you must view him as the creation of a human mind. Saki is telling a story, and his creation Vera is telling a story within a story. "The Open Window" is a classic because it was a good idea to start with and is so well crafted.


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From "The Open Window" by Saki, write a brief character sketch of Mr. Nuttel and Mrs. Sappleton.

What we know about Mr. Framton Nuttel in "The Open Window" by Saki (H. M. Munro) is that he has no social graces, which is to say he doesn't quite know how to conduct himself in social situations, like that of paying a visit to total strangers: "Framton Nuttel endeavored to say the correct something." We also know that he makes a habit of staying by himself and not mixing with other people, as his sister says to him: “you will bury yourself down there and not speak to a living soul.” We know he has some sort of nervous complaint for which he is taking a "nerve cure" that entails "complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical exercise." And we know that Framton is doubtful of the added benefit to his nerve cure that might be derived from meeting complete strangers to whom his sister has written "letters of introduction."

We also know that his limited idea of conversation, which “labored under [a] tolerably widespread delusion,” includes "only talk about his illnesses." We also know that Framton is impressionable and naive and gullible. We know all this for two reason: the way he describes the young niece, Vera, and the insight of hindsight we get at the close of the short story. The narrator often reflects Framton's own observations such as when describing the niece as "a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen"; as when later the narrator adds, "pursued the self-possessed young lady"; and later still says: "The child was staring out through the open window with a dazed horror in her eyes." The insight of hindsight that informs us of Framton's impressionable gullibility comes when Vera starts to make up an appalling story to explain Framton's behavior--just as she did to fill in the void of Mrs. Sappleton's absence (notice how Sappleton is reminiscent of “sap,” which means “a gullible or foolish person” (World English Dictionary)).

Speaking of whom, what we know of Mrs. Sappleton is that she is bright, cheerful, and energetic: "the aunt bustled into the room." We also know that she is very enthusiastic in her praise of the activities of the men she cares about, her husband and brothers (and their little spaniel dog). We also know she is big-hearted and gracious when bored by tedious visitors (like Framton Nuttel) but not at all unrealistic in her assessment of strangers:

A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel, ... dashed off without a word of goodby or apology.... One would think he had seen a ghost.

We also know that she is good natured and a doting wife and loving sister, even when teased: "I said, Bertie, why do you bound?" Finally, we know that Mrs. Sappleton doesn't understand Vera in the least. She never suspects for a moment in the story that Vera is wreaking havoc with people's imaginations through wild stories she convincingly concocts in an instant, like the one about the men being lost in a quicksand bog and the one about "’a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the Ganges [with] a pack of pariah dogs.’ … Romance [adventure] at short notice was her speciality."

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