How is the short story "The Lumber Room" a criticism of the one track minds of the adults?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Saki's "The Lumber Room," the soi-disant, self-appointed aunt, decides things dogmatically without considering any variables because she is narrow-minded and unimaginative. Saki does, indeed, make this narrow-mindedness an issue in his story:

She [the aunt] was a woman of few ideas, with immense powers of concentration. 

But, to the mind of the imaginative Nicholas,

...older, wise, and better people had been proved to be profoundly in error in matters about which they had expressed the utmost assurance.

When Nicholas misbehaves by putting a frog in his bread-and-milk and then informing his aunt that there is a frog in his bowl, she insists that there cannot possibly be a frog in the bowl. But Nicholas contradicts her; consequently, he is punished by not being allowed to go on the trip to Jagborough sands although it is his aunt who is in error. Always the aunt organizes something of a festival nature for the other children, but the perpetrator must remain home. Taking advantage of the moment, Nicholas mentions that the girl-cousin is crying because she has skinned her knee and Bobby said his boot hurts his foot. "She'll soon get over this," the aunt asserts, then she declares that Bobby did not say anything about his boots. Nicholas argues that she did not listen:

"He told you twice, but you weren't listening. You often don't listen when we tell you important things."

After this exchange, the aunt forbids Nicholas unconditionally to go into the gooseberry garden because he is "disgraced"; Nicholas listens carefully. But, just to distract her, Nicholas pretends that he wants to go into this garden. In this way, she will watch for him to gain entry. Since she is now preoccupied, Nicholas enters the lumber room where there are new curiosities for him to see. Later on, when the aunt cannot find him, she still only believes that he has gone into garden. After a while, Nicholas hears her call to him to fetch a ladder because she has fallen into a deep rain tub. Nicholas closes the lumber room and hurries outside. 

When the aunt asks him to fetch the ladder so that she can get out of the rain tub, Nicholas plays off her strict orders, saying that he was told not to go into the garden. The aunt says it is all right now; however, Nicholas accuses her of being the Evil One who merely tempts him:

"Your voice doesn't sound like aunt's," objected Nicholas; "you may be the Evil One tempting me to be disobedient. Aunt often tells me that the Evil One tempts me and that I always yield. This time I'm not going to yield."

The aunt tells him to stop his nonsense, but Nicholas is too clever for her. He asks if he may have strawberry jam if he fetches the ladder. Aunt agrees. Nicholas quickly replies that now he knows that she is, indeed, the Evil One because his aunt insisted that there were no jars but he had looked and

"...of course you know it's there, but she doesn't, because she said there wasn't any. Oh, Devil, you have sold yourself!"

Nicholas has trapped his aunt in her single-mindedness, and she must wait to be rescued until one of the servants happens upon her. Then, after the cousins return, the aunt is told that the tide was in and they did not get to enjoy the beach, "a circumstance that the aunt had overlooked in the haste of organizing her punitive expedition."

The single-mindedness and lack of imagination of the aunt have, indeed, been her undoing.