What is the moral lesson of "The Open Window"?

The moral lesson of "The Open Window" is that people who are gullible and self-absorbed will suffer the consequences of their failure to question what they are told.

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If there is a moral lesson to be taken from Saki’s humorous short story “The Open Window,” it is that gullible people—those who take things at face value and believe what they are told without question—will suffer the consequences of their credulity. Saki also comments on the self-absorption of the adult characters in the story, who are too wrapped up in their own concerns to cast doubt on a teenager’s tall tales.

As soon as the acutely nervous Framton Nuttel has admitted to not knowing Mrs. Sappleton or, indeed, anyone else in the surrounding area, fifteen-year-old Vera senses his susceptibility to her own “speciality”: producing “romance,” or fantastic stories, at a moment’s notice. For his part, Framton is so absorbed in anxious thoughts of his rural “nerve cure,” his regret over having to pay formal visits to strangers, what to say to Vera, and what kind of person Mrs. Sappleton is that he fails to notice anything strange about how pointedly Vera asks him if he knows anything about her aunt. Immediately after he confirms his ignorance, Vera begins her ghost story, saying, “Her great tragedy happened just three years ago. ... That would be since your sister’s time.”

If Framton were less gullible, and paying closer attention, he might take Vera’s mention of his sister as a clue to the ensuing story’s falsehood: Framton’s sister stayed at the local rectory about four years previous, and Vera claims that her aunt’s husband and brothers drowned three years ago, meaning Framton’s sister wouldn’t have heard about the supposed tragedy and thus would have had no chance to mention anything that might contradict the tale. Even before Vera begins her story, Framton notices that “an undefinable something about the room seemed to suggest masculine habitation,” an observation that, had he paid it more attention, could have clued him in to the fact that living men do in fact still occupy the house.

When Mrs. Sappleton comes downstairs, she takes little notice of Framton or his anxiety and begins talking about her supposedly dead husband and brothers, the mud she expects them to leave on the carpets, and “the shooting and scarcity of birds.” Rather than try to find out if the ghost story he’s just been told is true—he is already convinced that it is—Framton, who is more concerned with the awkwardness of the situation than he is with Mrs. Sappleton's feelings, launches into an unsolicited monologue on his nervous condition in an effort to change the subject. Saki makes it clear that Framton is here demonstrating a relatively common flaw: absorbed in his own anxiety about his health, he is laboring “under the tolerably widespread delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least detail of one's ailments and infirmities, their cause and cure.”

Framton’s self-absorption thus contributes to his failure to question what he sees and hears. This fault combines with his overall nervousness and gullibility, which Vera sensed from the beginning, to make Framton the perfect victim of Vera’s prank. His terrified headlong flight from the house and into the road, where he nearly collides with a passing cyclist, emphasizes both Framton’s ridiculousness and the consequences of crediting everything one hears as truth. Mr. and Mrs. Sappleton likewise appear to accept Vera’s subsequent story about Framton’s fear of dogs without question, though without incurring any particular consequences to themselves. Vera, meanwhile, remains utterly calm in the knowledge that she is able to dupe the adults around her with ease. Saki thus presents a comedic, and not especially moralistic, lesson on the dangers of gullibility.

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