In the short story "The Lumber Room," how does Saki criticize the aunt?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Apparently, Saki had a real-life aunt after whom he modeled the self-appointed aunt of the protagonist, Nicholas, in "The Lumber Room." For the author, this aunt represents the person without imagination, the non-creative dullard who fancies herself as intellectually superior to children only by virtue of age. In truth, the inventive mind of Nicholas is far superior. He tricks her with the frog in his bowl because she lacks the ability to consider any possibilities outside her own myopic parameters. Then, after she sentences him to remain at home while his cousins go to the beach and have fun, Nicholas counters that his cousin

"Bobby won't enjoy himself much, and he won't race much either....his boots are hurting him. They're too tight."

His self-absorbed aunt counters that she did not hear him say anything about his boots. But later Nicholas is proven right again. Of course, the coup de grace against the aunt is Nicholas's manipulation of her command to him this day and her lie to him on the previous day. Since the aunt has forbidden him to enter the gooseberry garden and since she has lied when she refused him strawberry jam with his tea the previous day, contending there was none, Nicholas outsmarts her by manipulating her restrictive commands to him against her.

When she orders him to come into the garden in order to free her from the water tank into which she has fallen, Nicholas says, "I was told I wasn't to go into the gooseberry garden." Further, he pretends, "Your voice doesn't sound like aunt's," suggesting she may be the"Evil One" trying to tempt him. The aunt insists that he "fetch the ladder." Cleverly, Nicholas asks if he may have strawberry jam for tea time, intimating this privilege is a condition for obeying. The aunt gladly agrees, not remembering that she lied the previous day when she did not wish to give him the jam.

"Now I know that you are the Evil One and not aunt," shouted Nicholas gleefully; "when we asked aunt for strawberry jam yesterday she said there wasn't any. I know there are four jars of it in the store cupboard, because I 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!"

Saki's moral in his satire of the aunt: British ingenuity defeats crass authority every time.

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