The Open Window Theme

What is the theme in "The Open Window" by Saki?

Themes in "The Open Window" by Saki include reality versus appearance, deciphering truth, deception, and sanity and insanity.

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Under the broader theme of appearance versus reality, the story treats the theme of human gullibility. What is remarkable about the story is the ease with which both Mr. Nuttel (the nut) and the Sappeltons (the saps) believe the lies told by Vera (a name which ironically means truth). Both...

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Under the broader theme of appearance versus reality, the story treats the theme of human gullibility. What is remarkable about the story is the ease with which both Mr. Nuttel (the nut) and the Sappeltons (the saps) believe the lies told by Vera (a name which ironically means truth). Both seem oblivious to the highly fictive qualities of the tales Vera tells.

Nuttel falls completely for the story Vera presents of her uncle and two cousins perishing in a bog while hunting and her aunt leaving the window open in the conviction that the dead threesome will come through it. This might be the subject for a classic ghost story, but it is hardly realistic. Possibly more preposterous is the tale she tells her aunt and uncle to explain why Nuttel ran off. Vera attributes it to his "horror" of dogs, which was developed when he was chased in India by a pack of wild dogs and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave, the dogs "foaming" just above him. This is more the plot of an adventure thriller than something ever likely to happen to Mr. Nuttel.

In showing us three adults unquestioningly believing the fantastic ghost and adventure stories of a teenage girl, Saki questions why we are so often quick to believe anything we are told. This story might have particular relevance in today's climate of political conspiracy theories.

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The Open Window” by Saki presents a man in need of a cure for his nerves.  Mr. Nuttel comes to the wrong house. He is there to meet a friend, Mrs. Sappleton, of his sister. While he is waiting on Mrs. Sappleton, he is intercepted by a creative niece who scares the man nearly to death.  If his nerves were bad before, they will not have improved after this visit.


Reality versus appearance

Thematically, the story speaks first to the difference between reality and appearance.  The fifteen year old niece likes to create stories.  In this situation, she uses one real object, the open window, to draw in her victim.  To Mr. Nuttel, it is open because it is a hot day.

The story becomes a story within a story.  When the niece tells the fantastic story of the disappearance of three men and a dog, she makes the story sound so possible. The window becomes symbolic.  It represents the possibility that the men just might walk in after being lost for three years. This is the appearance of truth

Mrs. Sappleton comes in and begins to talk about reality. She has no idea that her niece had told Mr. Nuttel a story about the window.   Her husband is gone hunting with her brothers and will be back soon.  She discusses hunting and other associated things. Again, the open window is mentioned.  This is the reality of the story

In Mr. Nuttel’s mind, he believes the niece’s story; he thinks Mrs. Sappleton is awful and probably crazy because she expects her lost husband to come walking in on this particular day.

When she sees her husband actually returning from hunting with her brothers, Mr. Nuttel at first does not believe it.  Then, he looks out and sees three men coming. This was close enough for him.  He heads out the door never to return to the Sappleton's home.

A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel,’ said Mrs. Sappleton, could only talk about his illnesses and dashed off without a word of goodbye or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost.”

This, of course, is dramatic irony since that is what Mr. Nuttel thought he had seen.

With the men coming in the window, appearance is lost to the reality of the real story. The niece likes to tell romance stories which is also a reality.

Deciphering truth

Another theme in the story is the fine line in deciphering truth. If the reader were unaware of Saki’s stories or had never heard of this story, he might accept the niece’s story.  Mr. Nuttel is nervous and damaged; there is no doubt that he believes the story. If the reader believes the story, then it stands to reason that a person can be easily fooled by a good story teller.  

If a person were paying attention, he might have been able to watch the girl’s face or look at her eyes and tell if she is making the story up or that it is a true story.  Hesitation, facial expressions, and word choice are tools which might be used to tell if someone were lying.

Deception is easy for some people, certainly those without an active conscience. If the girl knew that Mr. Nuttel had a nervous condition, it would have been wrong for her to tell him this kind of story to scare him. 

If she did not know, then it was a harmless prank that went wrong because of his nervous problem.  Either way, the girl continues on with her story telling by making up a gruesome reason for Mr. Nuttel leaving.

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There are three themes in The Open Window. 

Appearance as reality -  Vera, Mrs. Sappleton's niece tells a very convincing story to Mr. Frampton Nuttel, she is so authentic in her description that his frame of reality about the family is created through her story.  The point of this theme is that what an individual perceives becomes his reality.  Frampton Nuttel expected to see three ghosts come through the window, so when he saw the men coming towards the house, he could not get out of there fast enough.

Deception- Vera  obviously deceives Frampton Nuttel when she tells her tall tale about her aunt who waits for the return of the hunting party lost in the marsh.

Sanity and Insanity- Frampton Nuttel is in the country for a nervous condition, he questions his sanity after he hears the story from Vera.  When he finally meets Mrs. Sappleton, he thinks that she is insane.


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Out of a variety of themes in the story, the one that dominates is manipulation versus frailty. The story is possible thanks to the manipulative nature of Vera, a girl who is fifteen years of age, but still quite "self-possessed" and in control of herself and her circumstances.

Her curious and yet strong personality is what makes her decide to employ her storytelling skills to mentally disturb house guest Framton Nuttel, a man who is obviously awkward and suffers from a nervous condition. The fact that she does this on purpose shows that she feels quite in control of the man, and also that his condition is noticeable enough that she feels piqued to challenge it. 

Vera's manipulation is strong, regardless of the fact that she is younger and expected to have less experience in life than Framton. Yet, his frailty of character and his lack of mental stability puts him in a susceptible position, where he is at the mercy of what the young girl says to him. Therefore, his gullibility and feeble nature act against him. 

Sadly, his lack of self control will always make Framton prey for anyone whose personality traits are contrary to his own. Anyone who is both "self-possessed" and mischievous enough to want to cause harm would immediately become an adversary to Framton. Since he goes from bad to worse in the story, one may suppose that things will only go worse for him in life from there on.

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There are many possible themes to "The Open Window".  Like all literature, theme depends on how a reader interprets the text.  One possible theme of the short story is distrust.  Framton Nuttel is visiting the home of Mrs. Sappleton.  Nuttel is visiting the home because he has a nervous disorder and needs to seek out a place that is calm and quiet- the exact treatment of his disorder is not noted, but a reader could assume that his doctor is simply prescribing rest.  Once at the home, Nuttel meets Vera, the niece of Mrs. Sappleton. Nuttel tells Vera of his reasoning for the visit.  The young girl then turns the tale of this being the exact day of her uncle's disappearance.  Here is where the theme is enacted.  Vera knows of Nuttel's nervous disorder, his desire to rest at her aunt's home to recuperate, and, instead of helping with Nuttel's recovery, she compounds his ailment by creating a ghost story to which, to Nuttel's surprise, becomes real. Nuttel needed to trust in those of whom he sought out help; instead, those he sought out failed to help him at all.  Therefore, the theme of the text is mistrust- the only words that Vera mentions that are true are those of the names of her family members.

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