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

The Open Window

by Saki
Start Free Trial

In "The Open Window," why does Vera ask Mr. Nuttel if he knows her aunt?

In "The Open Window," Vera asks Mr. Nuttel is he knows her aunt so that she can gauge whether or not he will believe her fictitious ghost story. Vera asks him several probing questions to determine if he is gullible enough to fall for her trick.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mrs. Sappleton's mischievous niece Vera inquires about Framton Nuttel's background in order to play a cruel prank on him. As soon as Vera lays eyes on Framton Nuttel, she views him as a plausible target and begins asking him several relevant questions regarding his background, familiarity with her aunt, and if he knows any of the neighbors. Vera's inquiry gives her the valuable information she is seeking, and Vera recognizes that Framton is the perfect victim for one of her spontaneous pranks. When Vera asks Framton if he knows her aunt or anyone nearby, Framton informs her that he is a complete stranger. Framton unknowingly plays right into Vera's hand and sets himself up for disaster.

Once Vera confirms that Framton is a complete stranger, she proceeds to tell him a fantastic ghost story, which she will use to prank her gullible guest. Vera is an excellent judge of character and realizes that Framton is too timid and anxious to question the validity of her story. Framton accepts the unnerving story at face value and becomes even more disturbed when Mrs. Sappleton begins casually discussing her husband and brothers' recent trip to the marshes.

When the men return from the marshes, Vera acts astonished and horrified, which dramatically increases Framton's anxiety and fear. Saki writes,

Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the niece with a look intended to convey sympathetic comprehension. The child was staring out through the open window with dazed horror in her eyes. In a chill shock of nameless fear Framton swung round in his seat and looked in the same direction.

Framton falls for Vera's impromptu prank and immediately runs out of the house without looking back. Overall, Vera's initial questions were to assess Framton's familiarity with the region in order to determine if he was a prime target for a cruel, entertaining prank.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What appears to be an innocent, polite inquiry on Vera's part is really just a piece of mischief. She's sizing up poor Framton, trying to find out if he knows anyone in the local neighborhood, the better to play a cruel prank on him. Once she finds out that Framton doesn't know her aunt, or indeed anyone in this neck of the woods, then she's in a position to set him up for a joke.

If Framton did actually know Vera's aunt, Mrs. Sappleton, then Vera would most probably still play some sort of prank on him, albeit of a different kind. But as that's not the case, Vera is free to concoct a shaggy-dog story involving her aunt and her aunt's deceased husband and brothers that sounds plausible on the surface.

Having given the impression that her aunt is mentally unbalanced, Framton's not in a position to challenge the story; first of all, he doesn't know the lady, and second of all, he's much too timid. He's hardly likely to come right out and ask Mrs. Sappleton if what Vera says about her is true.

Vera knows this, which is why she's able to play her wicked prank on Framton, safe in the knowledge that it's almost certain to work like clockwork.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the beginning of the story, Mrs. Sappleton's self-possessed niece asks the neurotic, timid Framton Nuttel several probing questions to determine whether or not she can fool him into believing an outlandish ghost story. Vera is depicted as a cunning, imaginative young girl whose specialty is "romance at short notice." In contrast, Framton is portrayed as a vulnerable, unstable man who is visibly nervous and extremely gullible. Framton hopes that traveling into the country will calm his nerves and provide a relaxing respite for him to recover. Unfortunately, Framton meets Vera, who scares him to death with her incredible ghost story that seems to come to life.

After Framton introduces himself, Vera conducts a quick assessment to see if he is familiar with anyone in the area. Vera asks Framton if he knows many people from the community and if he has ever met her aunt, Mrs. Sappleton. Framton responds by saying that he hardly knows a soul, and his knowledge of Mrs. Sappleton only extends to her name and address.

Once Vera learns that Framton is a complete stranger, she accurately determines that he is extremely gullible and will believe her fantastic ghost story regarding her aunt's open French window. Vera knows that her uncle and his two brothers will be arriving soon and proceeds to tell an unsettling story about their tragic deaths, which makes Framton feel even more nervous than before. When Mrs. Sappleton's husband and brothers return, Vera pretends to be shocked, and Framton believes that he is witnessing ghosts approach the window. Framton is terrified by the experience and sprints out the door.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Vera, for whom "[R]omance at short notice was her specialty," asks Mr. Framton Nuttel if he knows her aunt so that she can determine the design of her forthcoming fabrication. Having perceived that Mr. Nuttel is unprepossessing, nervous, timid, and unstable, Vera knows after asking Nuttel if he is acquainted with her aunt, and he says he is not, that she can create an outlandish tale for this shaky and gullible man and he will be terrified by it. For, she is cognizant that she can lie about  her cousin and uncle and Nuttel will believe her.

So, then, after having told Nuttel that her aunt is not mentally stable and imagines that her deceased husband and son will return from their hunting trip, Vera continues her lies by embellishing the effect by creating the tone of absolute surprise when Mr. Sappleton and his son return and enter through the window, a tone which engenders the terror of Framton Nuttel:

The child was staring out through the open window with dazed horror in her eye. In a chill shock of nameless fear, Framton swung round in his seat and looked in the same direction.

So terrified is Nuttel by this blurring of the lines between reality and imagination that he grabs his hat and cane and charges out of the house.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team