How are Graham Greene's short story "The Destructors" and Saki's "The Open Window" the same and different according to their conflicts and resolutions?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Both the short stories "The Destructors," by Graham Green, and "The Open Window," by Saki, can be considered satirical social commentaries. In other words, both poke fun at aspects of British society by using characters who represent upper-class society and by creating conflicts having to do with society.

On the surface, "The Destructors" appears to be a story of a group of youths' pointless victimization of an innocent elderly man. At first, there appears to be no conflict because the youths do exactly what they set out to do and succeed, and there seems to be no real reason for their actions because the youths, though they may feel prejudiced against the elderly man they call "Old Misery," are not actually in conflict with him. However, as explained by Charles E. May, editor of the Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition, we can actually see the short story as a metaphor for the conflict between social classes in England, particularly the social struggles that arose soon after World War II (eNotes, "Themes and Meanings").

In this short story, "Old Misery" represents England's upper class, while the boys and the truck driver represent England's struggling working class. The fact that "Old Misery's" stately though dilapidated house has remained standing amongst the rubble of bombed out houses in a neighborhood that has now become one of the poorest neighborhoods represents the upper class still standing, still remaining, and still looking down their noses at all those who struggle around them. Hence, the true conflict in this story is upper class vs. working class, and the resolution is the destruction of the upper class, a resolution that the truck driver finds amusing.

Similarly, "The Open Window" also seems like a story about a malicious young girl senselessly tormenting an innocent older man. In that sense, on the surface, the conflict appears to be character vs. character. However, we can also see "The Open Window" as a social commentary, but in this case, all characters are members of the upper class showing their weaknesses.

Mr. Nuttel has been sent by his doctor to stay in the country in order to recover from a nervous condition, something only someone in the upper-middle class or upper class could afford to do. In the story, he is most likely visiting neighbors in their country home, as we can tell by the fact the men of the household have gone off hunting in the moors, something that also only the upper-middle class or upper class would be able to afford the luxury of doing. What's particularly interesting is that Mr. Nuttel is described as a frightful bore "who could only talk about his illness." It is because he is a bore that the neighbor's niece gets it into her head to scare him with a ghost story. Hence, Saki is using this short story to portray two common types found in English upper-class society: the frightful bore and the malicious person.

Therefore, as in "The Destructors," the conflict in Saki's story is really society vs. society; however, Saki's resolution isn't nearly as satisfying as Greene's. In Saki's story, the malicious upper-class member successfully gets rid of the boring person, and no real resolution for society as a whole has been established.

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