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

The Open Window

by Saki
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How is suspense created in "The Open Window" by Saki?

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Saki effectively uses elements creating suspense in the short story, "The Open Window." The reader learns within the first few lines that the protagonist of the story, Framton Nuttel, has fragile nerves for which he is seeking a cure. This information provides the reader with a sense of concern regarding Framton. In addition, Vera, the antagonist, is twice referred to as "self-possessed." A tone of suspense is set by providing the reader with this information early in the story. There is some apprehension at the meeting of these two characters.

When Vera discovers that Framton has never met her aunt, the reader sees a change in Vera's description. The author then refers to her as a "child." Suspense is again created around this sudden change in Vera's manner as she goes from being "self-possessed" to being a "child." Vera goes on to tell the story of her aunt's "great tragedy" that took place "three years ago to a day." Again, the reader is persuaded to become concerned with poor Framton's bad luck to arrive exactly three years after Mrs. Sappleton's "great tragedy."

Another element creating suspense is the repeated mention of the window. Vera says, "You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on an October afternoon." She then explains that her aunt's husband and brothers left through the window and never returned. The window is mentioned again when Vera shares that her aunt keeps the window open as if she expects their return. When Mrs. Sappleton finally appears, she mentions the window by saying, "I hope you don't mind the open window." Finally, as she talks with Framton, Mrs. Sappleton continues to glance at the open window. The reader's attention is continually pulled back to the window. As a result, suspense is created regarding what will happen with the window. The suspense reaches a climax when Mrs. Sappleton announces the return of her husband and brothers, and Framton turns to see the figures approaching the window.

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There are a number of techniques authors use for creating suspense, some are vocabulary, dialogue, setting, mood and tone. The main mechanism for building suspense in "The Open Window" is through a structural technique. Saki juxtaposes Framton's need for complete mental rest and the horrible story, with its grizzly expectation, Vera is telling to him. The reader knows Framton's need for mental rest and tranquility and feels the building, mentally unsettling, horror of the story of the three beloved men--and spaniel--being lost in a quagmire of the bog. The possibility that is raised that the men and spaniel might come back through the ceiling-to-floor French window continues the suspense once it is begun.

Another structural technique in the characterization of Vera adds further to the suspense. The fact that she asks questions about Framton's knowledge of the area and of her aunt in particular lends a suspenseful chill to the story as it progresses. In addition, her seemingly offhand remark about the open window in October, right after mentioning the "tragedy," adds to the suspense because it makes readers alert to the titular theme (the theme represented by the title): "The Open Window."

"You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on an October afternoon," said the niece, indicating a large French window that opened on to a lawn.

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