“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.
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.