Style and Technique
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.
Themes and Meanings
Saki was known for his satiric wit and his adroit dialogue, which perfectly reveals characters typical of the Edwardian social setting of his stories. His characters are very often eccentric bores and colossal liars, types that can be found in his other stories, such as “A Defensive Diamond” and “The Strategist.”
The meaning of “The Open Window” depends on the narrator’s final statement about Vera: “Romance at short notice was her specialty.” The story is little more than a practical joke played by Vera on the susceptible Framton Nuttel, a champion bore and a character-type familiar to readers of Saki. After a very short conversation with him, Mrs. Sappleton quickly reads the character of Mr. Nuttel as a “most extraordinary man” who “could only talk about his illnesses.”
The reader, too, is quickly bored with Framton Nuttel, a weakling who thinks only of his health and has no topic of conversation other than his nervous disorder and the opinions of his doctors. Vera, the fifteen-year-old niece who greets him on his arrival at the Sappleton house, is a surprisingly perceptive girl. She is able to read the man’s character accurately as that of a gullible hypochondriac and proceeds to fabricate the absurd story of her aunt’s “great tragedy” for her own amusement. The deception is almost forgivable because Mr. Nuttel is such a boring person, but the deception is also cruel, and the man’s terrified response to what he thinks must be a supernatural visitation is pathetic—there is no sympathy here for the weak. Mr. Nuttel is out of his league when confronted by Vera.
The story, then, centers on an ironic deception that transforms momentarily the ordinary into what seems to be the supernatural, then snaps the circumstances back into reality through the clever use of irony. Vera is a typical Saki character type, related to the tall-tale tellers and liars of his other stories, just as Mr. Nuttel is a deserving dupe.
Armed with a...
(The entire section is 2,238 words.)