"The Open Window" is a combination of humor and irony. Explain how the writer Saki has used irony in this lesson to bring out the desired effect.

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is one great irony in the story. Framton Nuttel has come to the English countryside seeking peace and quiet for his "nerve cure." Instead he runs into a situation that brings about the very opposite of what he is seeking.

When he first meets Mrs. Sappleton he tells her why he has come to her part of England.

     "The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical exercise," announced Framton...

Vera has already had the opportunity to tell Framton her story about the three men who have been dead for three years, having been sucked into a bog while hunting on the moor. At this point the reader has no idea that this is a complete fiction. Vera knows the men will soon be returning and that Framton will take them for ghosts. Her aunt plays her part perfectly. She says she is expecting her husband and her two young brothers to be returning for tea and that they will enter through the open French window as they always do. Framton has been set up to believe that Mrs. Sappleton lost her mind when the "tragedy" happened and that she has been expecting her men to return at tea time for the past three years.

Framton is seated in such a way that he can see Mrs. Sappleton but cannot see the open window or Vera. When his hostess says, "Here they are at last!", Framton does not look towards the window because he assumes the woman is just having an hallucination. Instead, he turns to look at Vera to show his sympathy. He is shocked when he sees that the young girl is looking at the window and making a horrified face. So then he looks at the window and sees what he has been set up to see.

In the deepening twilight three figures were walking across the lawn towards the window, they all carried guns under their arms, and one of them was additionally burdened with a white coat hung over his shoulders. A tired brown spaniel kept close at their heels. Noiselessly they neared the house, and then a hoarse young voice chanted out of the dusk: "I said, Bertie, why do you bound?"

Framton's reaction shows that--ironically--he is experiencing, or is about to experience, just exactly the opposite of what all his doctors prescribed: "complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical exercise."

Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall door, the gravel drive, and the front gate were dimly noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid imminent collision.

The humor in the story is entirely based on the ironic contrast between the peace and quiet that Framton was seeking and the fright of his life he received at the Sappletons which caused him to get the most "violent physical exercise" he had probably ever gotten in his life. The fact that the three "ghosts" were all carrying guns made them all the more frightening.