How does the aunt underestimate the children in Saki's "The Storyteller"? I've read this over and over and I"m not finding the answer.
In "The Storyteller," the aunt underestimates the children's attention span. She underestimates the children's ability to show interest in any story. She has tried everything to keep them quiet. She tells them a story of which they have no interest. The man traveling in the train car with the aunt and three extremely inquisitive children, to a point of being annoying, inserts that the aunt did not tell a very good story:
'You don't seem to be a success as a story-teller,' said the bachelor suddenly from his corner.
The aunt, offended, responds:
'Perhaps you would like to tell them a story,' was the aunt's retort.
She underestimates the children's ability to sit quietly and listen to the bachelor's story. She could not keep them quiet with her story. She could not keep the children interested in her story. She underestimates the children's ability to actually become interested in any story. The aunt thinks the children will react to his story the way they have reacted to hers. When the bachelor is able to command the children's attention, the aunt tries to hide her admiration during the bachelor's story telling:
The aunt suppressed a gasp of admiration.
Truly, the aunt is impressed that the bachelor has maintained command of the children's attention. However, by the end of the story, she reprimands the bachelor for telling such a story with such a terrible ending. She insists that his story has been most improper:
'A most improper story to tell to young children! You have undermined the effect of years of careful teaching.'
The bachelor smugly responds:
'I kept them quiet for ten minutes, which was more than you were able to do.'
Part of Saki's signature satire exists in the aunt's delusion that because the children are young, they have no taste for the sadistic. But, the storyteller, having a better comprehension of the innate cruelty of humans, and the cynicism of the children regarding the "goody-goody" story that the aunt relates, comes to this realization. This is why he quickly inserts the word horribly with good as he begins what appears to be another traditional children's story. For, after he uses this word, there is "a wave of reaction in favour of the story."
Further, when the storyteller injects the enormous, prowling wolf into the story with its "black tongue and pale grey eyes that gleamed with unspeakable ferocity," the children's interest is quickly ignited. In their sadistic delight, they ask if any of the pigs are killed, unconcerned about the "heroine," Bertha, who is devoured by the wolf.
Clearly, the children find delight in the story because of the element of horror.
"The story began badly," said the smaller of the small girls, "but it had a beautiful ending."
It is the most beautiful story that I ever heard," said the bigger of the small girls, with immense decision.
These reactions of the children underscore this delight of which the aunt was ignorant.