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

The Open Window

by Saki

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Character analysis of Mrs. Sappleton in "The Open Window."


Mrs. Sappleton in "The Open Window" is a hospitable and unsuspecting character. She is portrayed as a typical Edwardian hostess who is preoccupied with her household and family, particularly her husband and brothers. Her open and trusting nature makes her an easy target for her niece Vera's mischievous story, highlighting her innocence and the contrast between her and Vera's cunning personality.

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Provide a brief character sketch of Mrs. Sappleton from "The Open Window."

Vera is able to convince Framton Nuttel that her aunt Mrs. Sappleton is insane. This is because the poor woman has been confined to an isolated English country home where she hears nothing but male talk about killing birds. Her life revolves around her husband and two brothers. Vera apparently despises her aunt for being so dependent and servile. Vera knows exactly what her aunt is going to say and do when she puts in an appearance. Mrs. Sappleton will sit looking at the open French window waiting for her men to appear for tea as they always do at this time. She will be talking to Framton Nuttel without really giving him much of her attention. Framton naturally assumes the poor woman is insane because she can talk about nothing but the three men she is expecting and the only topic she knows they will all be talking about when the men arrive.

She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter.

In a way, Vera is not far off in judging her aunt to be mentally unbalanced. Mrs. Sappleton has led the kind of dull, narrow, domestic life that would make any woman seem eccentric. She assumes that Framton must be interested in the scarcity of birds and the prospects for duck in the winter, because she takes it for granted that that is all men ever think about or talk about. She does not, of course, realize that she seems to be waiting for and talking about three men who died several years earlier.

Vera is being groomed to be a mindless country housewife just like her aunt. This makes the girl resentful and inspires her to create a little uproar just to change the status quo in this maddening household. Mrs. Sappleton has no clue as to why Framton suddenly jumps up and goes running out of the house and down the country road. She tells her husband:

"A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel," said Mrs. Sappleton; "could only talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of goodby or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost."

Framton was not only escaping from three ghosts but from what he took to be a lunatic asylum. If the three men are ghosts, and if Mrs. Sappleton recognizes them and welcomes them, then what is Framton to think of her?

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Provide a brief character sketch of Mrs. Sappleton from "The Open Window."

Saki's ironic wit is at its best in his short story, "The Open Window" as the precocious niece Vera who cleverly fabricates a tale around the truth of Mrs. Sappleton's husband and brothers' disappearance tht terrifies the guest, Framton Nuttel, also suggests some things about her aunt.  While Vera depicts her aunt as delusional--"Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back some day"--she does reveal some truth about Mrs. Sappleton: she is fastidious.  For, the window is open because Mrs. Sappleton has never wanted the hunters to traipse across her carpets. 

As Vera is in the middle of her tale, Mrs. Sappleton "bustled into the room" offering "a whirl of apologies" for her tardiness in coming down to greet Mr. Nuttel. She then apolgizes for the open window, explaining that it serves to retain her "poor carpets."  Then, she expresses a gender bias, though not meant to give offense:  "So like you menfolk, isn't it?"  Without noticing Framton Nuttel's horrified reaction, Mrs. Sappleton "rattled on cheerfully" on topics relative to the men's hunting. As she speaks, Mrs. Sappleton eyes flit to the window and the lawn beyond it.  As Framton decides to discuss his ailments, Mrs. Sappleton is barely able to stifle a yawn of boredom which is instantly relieved when she spots the hunters returning.  One of the men, having neared the window, is heard calling to the dog not to run so.  Hearing this ghost speak, Framton Nuttel flees in terror.

All that Mrs. Sappleton can do is remark on how extraordinary Nuttel is.  She is appalled at his talk of illnesses and then his "dashing off" so rudely.  "One would think he had seen a ghost."  Vera explains to her that Nuttel fears dogs because he was once hunted by a "pack of pariah dogs."

Obviously, Vera is far more clever than Mrs. Sappleton, who seems to live her life in a fairly confining fashion, absorbed in what occurs with her immediate family only.  For, she is in no hurry to meet Framton Nuttel and simply appears out of some sense of obligation and civility.  She is fairly myopic, as well, as she does not observe any of the dynamics between Vera and Framton before she sits down.  Nor does she ask Framton anything about himself; instead she "rattles on cheerfully" about her family that is out hunting.  When Framton flees, she demonstrates no real concern for him then, either, as she does not call him back, but only remarks upon what an odd man he is.

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Which word or phrase best describes Mrs. Sappleton in "The Open Window"?

This is an interesting question because it does not focus on the far more visible character of the niece...instead, it focuses on the less visible character of the aunt.  To give you an answer, though, If I had to make a decision about how Mrs. Sappleton could BEST be described I would use the phrase "matriarch of the family."

Why do I think that?  Well, it was something in the way that the woman carried herself.  A matriarch is a female head of the family (or tribe.)  Here are some of my reasons:

  1. I suppose my opinion of her as such started when she came down the stairs "fashionably" late to receive her guest.  To me there is something stately about that.
  2. Then there is the way that she leads the conversation "She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter" and his inability to steer the discussion in a different direction.  To me, this suggests a woman of strong personality.
  3. She makes a comment about the men that I feel shows that she believes herself a little bit better than them: "they'll make a fine mess over my poor carpets. So like you menfolk, isn't it?"
  4. She is bored by Mr. Nuttel talking about himself and has to stifle a yawn.  This, to me, shows a certain disdain for men (though perhaps just this particular one) and a presumption of superiority that can't be marred by the faux pa of yawning.
  5. She is very interested in the return of the men.  She appears to like to know where people are, what they are doing, and when they are coming back.  That, to me, implies power.
  6. Her husband, two young brothers, and her niece are all either living at the house or are visitors there.  This shows that the orbit of the family, to some degree, revolves around the mom.

That's my two cents worth: matriarch.

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How would you describe Mrs. Sappleton in "The Open Window"?

As a social satirist of the Edwardian period, there is a humor in Saki's "The Open Window" not unlike that of Oscar Wilde, especially in the character of Vera, who has been sent downstairs by Mrs. Sappleton to entertain Mr. Framton Nuttel while he waits with his letters of introduction. 

The upperclass Mrs. Sappleton is not anxious to meet little Mr. Nuttel, knowing that he is inconsequential to her social circle, so she delays meeting him. After she "bustled into the room with a whirl of apologies for being late in making her appearance," her attitude contradicts her apology as she "rattled on cheerfully" about the men in her family who are hunting. As Nuttel feels he should change the topic of conversation away from the tragic event which Vera has described, he notices that "his hostess was giving him only a fragment of her attention."

Yet, Nuttel tries to refer to his condition as the reason he has come for a rest in the countryside. Operating under the "delusion" that stranger are eager to hear of his ailments, Framton informs Mrs. Sappleton in detail about his diet and need for rest; rather than commiserating, his hostess only stifles a yawn. Then, ignoring Framton, she "brightened into alert attention" as she sees her family approaching, "....Just in time for tea...."

Clearly, Mrs. Sappleton is abstracted, self-absorbed, and rather snobbish as she barely gives her guest Framton any attention. Ironically, after Framton rushes out, she heartlessly criticizes Nuttel's behavior to her husband.

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