illustration of a young girl looking out a window at ghostly figures

The Open Window

by Saki

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What are the characteristics of Vera in "The Open Window"?

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A chief characteristic of Vera—and the one that drives the story—is malice, which is the trait of doing evil for pleasure. Vera tells elaborate lies for the sense of enjoyment it gives her. This goes along with her cruel streak: when she finds out, for example, that Nuttel is suffering from a nervous disorder, she does her best through her lying to exploit that weakness in him, play on it, and drive him further into anxiety—so much so that he flees the house in terror.

Vera seems to have a strong desire for power, which perhaps reflects her sense of a being a powerless adolescent in her aunt's house. She gains power and control over others through telling lies. She can feel superior to those around her through her lying, because it leaves her knowing truths they don't and playing them for fools.

Vera's behavior shows she is passive aggressive. Her upbringing as a lady with good manners means she can't outwardly say that she finds Mr. Nuttel a bore who has been thrust on her or her aunt and uncle a fool, so she manipulates them using lies as her outlet.

We like Vera, however, on some level, because she poised, creative, intelligent, quick-witted, expert at her ploys, and very daring and audacious—perhaps the epitome of the artist. Our shock comes in the slippage between our expectations of how a well-brought up and polite teenage girl should act and her malicious behavior.

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The name Vera means "true" in Latin, a spectacular irony, since Vera's most outstanding characteristic is her mendacity. Vera does not tell lies to benefit herself or to escape punishment. She does not tell small, practical, evasive lies. She tells huge, elaborate baroque lies, because she is a master of the art of making things up. Since this is also a characteristic of the author, it is natural that Saki shares her perspective and her enjoyment.

Apart from her relish in lying, Vera is described as "a very self-possessed young lady." This establishes her social class (at least upper-middle, possibly higher) and the fact that she has excellent manners and poise. Her initial remark that Framton "must try and put up with" her while he is waiting for her aunt establishes the elaborate and completely insincere self-deprecation which has been regarded as a mark of good manners in England since the Victorian era. It is clear that Vera has a good opinion of herself. She is certainly well aware that she is more entertaining company than Mrs. Sappleton, but her social training leads her to open with this false modesty.

Finally, Vera is extremely intelligent and artful, a fine actress as well as a gifted storyteller. The details with which she embellishes her story and her final improvisation concerning Framton's fear of dogs after a traumatic experience in India are related by Saki with the relish and respect of a kindred spirit and a fellow artist.

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Vera is the most important character in "The Open Window." Saki needed someone who would prepare Framton Nuttel for a big shock when the three supposedly dead hunters returned at dusk. It couldn't be Mrs. Sappleton because it would be completely out of character for her to play such a trick. It had to be a mischievous child--but not too young because a young child couldn't bring it off convincingly. A boy or a girl? A girl would be best because a boy would probably be off hunting with the other males. She couldn't be too old, either. An older girl probably wouldn't have that same mischievous spirit. Fifteen was the best age for the author's purposes. He twice describes Vera as "self-possessed."

"My aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel," said a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; "in the meantime you must try and put up with me."

"Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?" pursued the self-possessed young lady.

Throughout the story Vera acts completely self-possessed--calm, cool, collected, poised, self-assured. Saki's purpose in emphasizing that Vera was "self-possessed" was to make it possible for her to terrify Framton at the end when the three hunters appear outside.

The child was staring out through the open window with dazed horror in her eyes.

Vera pretends to lose all her self possession, and the contrast, the sudden loss of her poise and self-assurance, convinces Framton that she is really looking at three ghosts. It seems possible that Vera gets a stronger reaction out of the nervous guest than she expected. She is perhaps a better actress than she realized. But she quickly recovers her habitual "self-possession" and makes up a weird tale to explain Framton's abrupt departure.


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Vera is a fifteen-year-old girl who has a vivid intelligence and must do a lot of reading. She is mischievous, but she is not too much different from girls her age who like to play practical jokes on people. On the surface she is very polite and “self-possessed,” but underneath she has a secret sadistic streak which strangers and even close relatives would not suspect. No doubt she finds her life very boring at the age of fifteen, since the story is set in a time when women in general had little freedom and girls her age had even less. Judging from the characters described in Saki’s story, there is no one even approximately Vera’s age for her to relate to. She must spend a great deal of time by herself and probably indulges in all sorts of fantasies. She is a shrewd judge of people. She senses immediately that the visitor Framton Nuttel is a bundle of nerves and a hypochondriac. She foresees how he would react to a ghost story and invents one on the spot to watch his reaction and prvide herself with some welcome amusement. There is a similarity between this story and Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” For some reason, we don’t feel sorry for Nuttel, just as we don’t feel sorry for Ichabod Crane.

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Vera's main characteristic is that she is bored. The fact that she is obviously very intelligent as well as imaginative only adds to her boredom. She is confined to a household in which the same exact things happen every day. The three males go out hunting and are expected back at tea time. They are always accompanied by the spaniel. They always enter by the tall window which is left open for them. She knows that Bertie always sings the same song--"I said, Bertie, why do you bound?"-- as a way of announcing their arrival. Her aunt has become so accustomed to the monotonous routine in this stereotypical English country setting that she always talks about the same subjects, based on information derived from the three men, who provide just about the only conversation she ever hears.

She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter.

Vera's boredom inspires her to create some excitement by making up a story which will be substantiated by the repetition of all the boring events of daily life she is so familiar with. Her aunt and the three hunters are like living symbols of the girl's utter boredom. They are completely dependable in their routine existences. She knows exactly what they will all do and say. It is no wonder that "romance at short notice was her specialty," since her only escape from boredom is in her imagination.

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