The Lumber Room

by Saki

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What are the literary techniques used in the story "The Lumber Room"?

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In order to identify literary techniques, one must first understand what they are and how to name them. Literary techniques are like the unseen ingredients in a cake. If you know, for example, what vanilla is, you will be more likely to identify the taste. I would very much recommend a close look at the definitions, descriptions, and good examples of 31 literary techniques on the Prep Scholar website (linked below).

With this information in hand, let us have a look at two of the literary techniques in the clever short-story classic “The Lumber-Room,” by Saki (the pen name of English author Hector Hugh Munro--1870-1916). Lumber-room is a British term for what Americans might call a storage room. Such places can hold endless fascination for children, as they are often both off-limits and full of the promise of mystery and surprises.

Two of the primary literary techniques in this short story are tone and imagery. Tone is an attitude that the writer (or narrator) wishes to convey to the reader. Although “The Lumber Room” is written from a third-person omniscient perspective, the writer’s humorous tone comes through clearly. One has the sense that the unseen storyteller is truly enjoying himself. Saki sets a light-hearted tone in the first lines of the story, in the preposterous situation of a frog at the bottom of a bowl of milk and bread.

Nicholas, an astute little boy who is the protagonist of the tale, easily manages to outwit the adult in charge—the “aunt by assertion.” He devises a situation in which his punishment for accurately stating that there is a frog in his food (which the aunt does not believe) leads to a punishment (being not allowed in the gooseberry garden) that lines up perfectly with his goal of visiting the locked lumber-room. A great example of how Saki’s humorous tone is in the boy’s reaction to the aunt calling for him in the gooseberry garden: “It was probably the first time in twenty years that anyone had smiled in the lumber-room.”

Tone can also be conveyed in the dialogue between characters, and Saki’s humorous tone reaches a point of hilarity when the aunt becomes stuck in an empty but slippery rain water tank and calls out for help. Nicholas, whom she cannot see, hoists her on her own petard (an idiom that refers to metaphorically falling into a trap of one’s own making) by steadfastly refusing, claiming that voice he hears must be the “Evil One,” tempting him to disobey and enter the gooseberry garden.

Another literary technique, of which you are sure to find many examples, is the author’s use of imagery in his description of the treasures Nicholas finds in the "unknown land" of the lumber-room. Imagery is a technique in which words are carefully chosen in order to appeal deeply to the senses. Saki describes the tapestry with vivid, clear language that offers excellent examples of imagery that you might wish to quote in your answer.

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