Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is told from the third-person point of view, limited in the opening paragraphs to the naïve perception of Mr. Nuttel, who is tricked by Vera’s mischievous fantasy. Because the fantasy is so bizarre and inventive and totally unexpected from a fifteen-year-old girl, the reader is also momentarily duped. Vera’s practical joke, which borders on being cruel, is perfectly consistent. When Mr. Sappleton and the brothers are seen returning from the hunt, she pretends to be horrified. The reader, like Framton Nuttel himself, can only assume, therefore, that this is a supernatural event.

The narrator stays in the house, however, after Mr. Nuttel’s frightened and abrupt departure, so as to reveal the ironic twist and to enjoy Vera’s second demonstration of her ability to produce “romance at short notice,” when she explains to her aunt and uncle that Mr. Nuttel has “a horror of dogs” because of an imagined incident he had in a cemetery in India. By this time the reader has reason to doubt that Mr. Nuttel would be adventuresome enough to travel to India.

Vera clearly has a talent for ornamenting the ordinary and the commonplace, and she is too quick-witted to tolerate boredom. She first makes Mr. Nuttel think that her aunt is a lunatic, then tricks him into a state of panic and fear, taking advantage of the poor man’s nervous disorder. Vera is not only “self-possessed” but also clever. Before setting her trap, she is careful to ascertain that Mr. Nuttel knows “practically nothing” about her aunt or her family.

Saki satirizes Mr. Nuttel’s banality in this miniature comedy of manners, lacing his treatment with his typical dry wit and malice and allowing his characters to reveal themselves through meticulously crafted dialogue. Saki has been ranked with O. Henry as a master of the surprise ending, and no less a craftsperson than Noël Coward, in his introduction to The Complete Works of Saki (1976), praised “The Open Window” as a masterpiece of high comedy.