The Lumber Room

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Discuss how young Nicholas outwits his aunt and thus evades her attempts to confine him in a dry, boring, and unimaginative existence in the short story "The Lumber Room" by H.H. Munro.

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In "The Lumber Room," Nicholas outwits his aunt in a number of ways. When the story begins, he antagonizes her by causing her to doubt the superiority of her adult judgment.

Accordingly, he proclaims that there is a frog in his basin of bread-and-milk during breakfast. Nicholas vehemently defends his knowledge of the frog's existence because he specifically put the frog into the basin himself. Thus, he is almost smug when he is given a useless lecture about telling lies and talking nonsense. After all, he is a 'skilled tactician' with an uncanny knowledge of adult sensibilities: he always denies his nemesis the satisfaction of being right, thus keeping her off balance emotionally:

...the older, wiser, and better people had been proved to be profoundly in error in matters about which they had expressed the utmost assurance.

When Nicholas' aunt announces that he will be not be part of the youthful contingent to Jagborough Beach because of his 'disgraceful conduct at the breakfast table,' he is nonchalant. Nicholas irritates his aunt and denies her the pleasure of feeling self-righteous by refusing to display the prerequisite tears of a disappointed child. Instead, he resorts to cheerful banter about the copious tears his girl-cousin shed before the expedition left. Apparently, she had scraped her knee painfully against the step of the carriage.

Nicholas also happily announces that Bobby won't enjoy himself either; his boots are too tight. When his aunt expresses indignation that she was never informed of Bobby's predicament, Nicholas lets loose another incriminating statement:

"He told you twice, but you weren't listening. You often don't listen when we tell you important things."

Because his words are true, Nicholas' aunt cannot argue with her young charge. Thus, Nicholas is often able to blindside her because he knows how to employ the use of facts to destabilize her at crucial moments.

Nicholas also knows how to distract his aunt from his true intentions by tailoring his expressions to suit her expectations. When his aunt thinks that he will try to find a way into the gooseberry garden, she guards the doors to the garden assiduously. After all, didn't Nicholas display 'an expression of considerable obstinacy' when she forbade him to enter the garden? Unknown to her, Nicholas has already concluded that his nemesis is 'a woman of few ideas, with immense powers of concentration.'

With his aunt thus distracted, Nicholas manages to retrieve the key to the coveted lumber room. He already knows how to turn the lock that leads into the lumber room, having practiced this skill a few days before. It is evident that he has left nothing to chance. In the lumber room, he is able to fuel his desire for the forbidden by indulging in the appreciation of 'unimagined treasures.' Spying a rich tapestry with a hunting scene, he allows his rich imagination to craft delicious possibilities in a story of adventure and danger.

Nicholas is only jolted from his magical interlude when he hears his...

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aunt scream his name. Alas, the poor woman still thinks that her young nemesis has found his way into the gooseberry garden! Nicholas smiles with the knowledge of someone who knows that he has managed to outwit an apparently superior enemy.

The last scene of the short story is perhaps the most humorous. Nicholas' aunt has managed to fall into the water-tank and cannot get out. She orders Nicholas to fetch a ladder, but he slyly tells her that he has been ordered to stay out of the gooseberry garden. Then, he submits that he is really talking to the Devil, as his aunt would never order him to disobey.

At this time, Nicholas' aunt has been reduced to begging for Nicholas' help. However, the wily, young boy is unrepentant and unashamedly asks for strawberry jam as payment for his help. When his angry aunt pretends to play along, Nicholas executes his coup de grace. He loudly proclaims that he is indeed talking to the Devil, for only he and the Devil would know that there were really four jars of jam in the store cupboard. Nicholas slyly implies that his aunt would never lie to him, so he can't be talking to her. By a master-stroke, Nicholas manages to embarrass his aunt and to indulge in a bit of cynical entertainment at her expense.

In the end, Nicholas' aunt is rescued by a kitchen maid. Not only has Nicholas managed to enjoy his afternoon despite his aunt's efforts, he has also managed to outwit her and evade her attempts to confine him in a dry, boring, and unimaginative existence.

Tea that evening was partaken of in a fearsome silence.

The aunt maintained the frozen muteness of one who has suffered undignified and unmerited detention in a rain-water tank for thirty-five minutes.

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