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

The Open Window

by Saki

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Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 533

Saki has been known for decades as a master of the short story form. In his "Introduction" to The Penguin Complete Saki, Noel Coward finds that Saki's tales "are dated only by the fact that they evoke an atmosphere and describe a society which vanished in the baleful summer of 1914." Saki may belong to a particular time, and his pen may have been stopped in the trenches of World War I, but his stories have a broad appeal that continues to this day. His story "The Open Window" is one of the most frequently anthologized stones in the English language. Biographies and critical assessments of Saki's stories often treat ''The Open Window'' very succinctly. One reason for the comparative lack of critical attention paid to this tale, as compared to that paid to other stories whose influence has extended so far, may be its brevity. That is, critics may find it difficult to write a lengthy analysis of something that is itself only a few pages long. Nevertheless, several critics have made interesting, if brief, observations about the story and about Saki's writing in general that contribute to one of the most enduring controversies surrounding "The Open Window": whether the reader should consider Vera's storytelling an act of malice. An unsigned review in The Spectator of Beasts and Super-Beasts, the volume of short stories in which "The Open Window" appeared, says of the volume that "[a]s a handbook of the gentle art of dealing faithfully with social nuisances. . [it] is quite unique.'' One might consider Framton Nuttel just such a nuisance, whom Vera dispatches with great delight and efficiency. The same reviewer, however, criticizes Saki, calling him "not an immoral, but for the most part a non-moral writer, with a freakish wit which leads him at times into inhumanity." Vera's treatment of Nuttel can be read as an instance of such "inhumanity." The reviewer concludes of Saki that "we like him best when he is least malicious." Though this review does not refer to Vera specifically as an example of such malice, John Daniel Stahl suggests as much in his 1977 essay "Saki's Enfant Terrible in 'The Open Window'." In one of the few critical essays to address this story at length, Stahl examines Vera's status as a precocious child who is bored with the adults around her. He writes that' 'we have in 'The Open Window' a powerful, clever child in opposition to a weak, neurotic, suggestible adult." He concludes that' 'Vera not only rejects but completely—and one might say, maliciously—dominates the feeble representative of adult life who crosses her path." In 1978, Miriam Quen Cheikin wrote ''Saki: Practical Jokes as a Clue to Comedy," in which she examines the variety of ways in which Saki utilizes practical jokes in his fiction. She characterizes Vera's storytelling as a practical joke, belonging to a category of practical jokes ''made up of conspiracies that drum up sheer fun." It is not necessarily true that Vera is malicious, then, but she is, perhaps, simply bored. Nevertheless, just as the text supports various interpretations of the veracity of Vera's tale, so too does the text support various interpretations of Vera's motive for telling it.

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Essays and Criticism