Is Vera's practical joke funny or cruel in "The Open Window" by Saki?

Expert Answers

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

Vera's practical joke is cruel.

Admittedly, Nuttel is a stranger who has been more or less foisted on the Sappleton family by his sister, who apparently wanted to get rid of him. He seems to bore Mrs. Sappleton, who can barely suppress a yawn when he starts to talk to...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Vera's practical joke is cruel.

Admittedly, Nuttel is a stranger who has been more or less foisted on the Sappleton family by his sister, who apparently wanted to get rid of him. He seems to bore Mrs. Sappleton, who can barely suppress a yawn when he starts to talk to her. He appears to talk too much about his illness and its symptoms.

One can understand, therefore, why Vera, who has been left with this unfortunate guest on her hands, would want to get rid of him. Nevertheless, the way she choses, while ingenious, is nevertheless cruel.

Nuttel is in the country at the Sappleton house for a nerve cure. He appears to suffer from extreme anxiety. Vera plays on this with a false story that leads him to believe he is seeing ghosts. He flees the house in terror. The family is rid of an unwanted guest, but we can only imagine that, by playing on his weakness, Vera has made his condition worse.

It is generally considered cruel to find a person's weakness or vulnerability and use it against them. This is sometimes called "hitting below the belt line."

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

The answer, however, will depend on your worldview and personal opinion. If you find Vera's actions compelling, you may come to the conclusion that her practical joke is merely humorous. If, however, you find yourself sympathizing with Framton Nuttel, you may decide Vera's practical joke is cruel and inconsiderate.

In the story, Vera entertains herself at Framton Nuttel's expense. To Vera, Framton's naivety and hypochondriac tendencies are fair game to be exploited for her amusement. Framton is one of those individuals who labors "under the tolerably widespread delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least detail" of one's "ailments and infirmities." As a character, Framton may come across as presumptuous and sanctimonious. This may be one of the reasons Vera decides to play a practical joke on him.

At the same time, in her bid to be entertained, Vera appears to ignore Framton's feelings. She lacks empathy for her guest and is unrepentant about her actions. After Framton's hasty retreat, she concocts another tall tale to explain away Framton's apparently strange actions. She is not sorry for the grief she causes her aunt's guest.

In Framton's estimation, Vera's story is an unnerving one, and when he spies the men, he becomes totally horror-stricken. It never enters his mind that Vera might have made up the whole affair about the men's premature deaths. He is too frightened to think coherently about the whole matter, and this is why he feels compelled to leave immediately.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team