What's the problem in Saki's "The Open Window," and how does the problem start?
While the problem in "The Open Window" seems a simple one--Framton Nuttel is in the country for a "nerve cure," yet he meets a charming young woman who tells him a horror story that he then watches come true--it is actually a complex psychological one. First of all, Framton is in a delicate emotional and psychological condition for reasons unknown to us. His situation is so delicate that he is sent to the country to recuperate. Secondly, one of the families he is sent to call on has a niece staying there who has an inclination for the macabre. When the two meet each other, it becomes an explosive situation for Framton.
The problem starts when the charming young lady, Vera, the niece, greets Framton while her aunt is momentarily unavailable. She (1) learns that he knows no one around there and nothing about her aunt. She (2) knows that her uncle and cousins are due back shortly from their regular hunting trip. She puts these pieces of information together and instantly weaves a horror story to entertain herself and, we suppose, hopefully terrify the new visitor.
"Do you know many of the people round here?" asked the niece, ....
"Hardly a soul," said Framton. ....
"Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?" pursued the self-possessed young lady.
"Only her name and address," admitted the caller. ....
"Her great tragedy happened just three years ago," said the child; "that would be since your sister's time."
Her plan succeeds, since Framton dashes out with such suddenness and rapidity that a cyclist is dashed into "the hedge to avoid imminent collision." A question arises as to the moral nature of the problem in this deeply psychological and ironic tale that toys with a man on the brink ironically worsened by the polite society expected to ease his way, as some members "were quite nice."
Although Vera does much of the talking, it is Framton Nuttel who is the viewpoint character. We see Vera and Mrs. Sappleton through his eyes, and we see the returniing hunters through his eyes--which is what makes three ordinary men seem ghostly. Framton's problem is that he is shy and nervous. He doesn't want to be in this house full of complete strangers. He wants to present his letter of introduction, drink his obligatory cup of tea, and make his escape. He expects the visit to be a minor ordeal because of his shyness and his nerves, but it turns into a major ordeal because of the story Vera tells him and the subsequent appearance of the three men who are supposed to be dead.
It might be argued that Vera has a problem in convincing the visitor that her aunt is mentally unbalanced and the three men are dead, but the reader suspects that this is not the first time she had tried out her story on a visitor. She tells it effectively because she has had practice. She is not only intelligent and imaginative, but she is also a good actress. She has to look appropriately horrified when the three hunters appear comiing towards the open window.