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

The Open Window

by Saki

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What does the title "The Open Window" signify in the story?

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The title "The Open Window" in the story symbolizes the central role the window plays in both Vera's fabricated tale and the actual narrative. It sets an ominous tone and creates a path for the 'ghosts' to enter, leading to Framton Nuttel's panic. The open window also represents the opportunity Vera exploits to weave her deceptive story, capitalizing on Framton's gullibility and the predictable behavior of the adults.

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The title seems to emphasize the importance of the open window in the story. It also sets a somewhat ominous tone. It suggests that something or other is going to cause trouble from the outside. Something is going to have to come in through that open window or the title wouldn't have been used for the story.

Vera takes advantage of the fact that there is a big French window standing wide open rather late on a not very warm day. The fact that Mr. Sappleton wore his white waterproof coat when he went hunting shows that the weather is overcast and threatening to rain. Vera gets Framton Nuttel's attention focused on the open window when she tells him her ghost story. The mischievous girl knows that her aunt will be sitting and looking towards the open window while she waits for her men to return for tea. 

The open window plays a prominent role in the story. It creates a reason to explain that the hunters are accustomed to leaving and departing through that window, so Framton will understand that the "ghosts" are heading straight towards him rather than entering through a side-door or backdoor in their wet clothes and muddy boots. 

The title focuses the reader's attention on the open window and gives it special and perhaps ominous significance. It dominates the setting in which the entire story takes place. Readers will remember the sight which caused Framton Nuttel to panic and flee from the house.

In the deepening twilight three figures were walking across the lawn towards the window, they all carried guns under their arms, and one of them was additionally burdened with a white coat hung over his shoulders. A tired brown spaniel kept close at their heels. Noiselessly they neared the house, and then a hoarse young voice chanted out of the dusk: "I said, Bertie, why do you bound?"

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Saki’s short story “The Open Window” concerns a nervous young man called Framton Nuttel who has been given a letter of introduction by his sister to Mrs. Sappleton, a woman he has never met. As the story begins, rather against his inclinations, Framton is waiting in Mrs. Sappleton’s drawing room for her to come down and greet him. In the meantime, her niece, Vera (an ironic name, since it implies truthfulness) tells him a story centered around the large French window which opens out of the drawing room onto the lawn.

The slight incongruity of keeping the window wide open in October seems to provide Vera with the inspiration for a ghost story about Mrs. Sappleton’s husband and brothers, which she relates with ghoulish relish, saying that although they are dead, Mrs. Sappleton keeps the window open, constantly hoping for their return.

When Mrs. Sappleton finally arrives on the scene, she also alludes to the open window, saying that she has left it open for the men of the house, who will soon come in from shooting. This fits in perfectly with Vera’s story. The open window is therefore the focal point of both Saki’s story and Vera’s story within it.

The phrase “The Open Window” also refers to the window of opportunity which Framton’s credulous nature and the predictability of the adults around her leave Vera for spinning her web of deceit.

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What is the message of the story "The Open Window"?

If there is a message in Saki’s “The Open Window,” it could perhaps be a message that storytelling is an art. Using a story within a story, Saki uses fifteen-year-old Vera as the master storyteller who gets the best of Mr. Nuttel. Vera sees her opportunity when she realizes that Mr. Nuttel knows nothing about her aunt, Mrs. Sappleton.

In the first sentence of the story, Vera is described as a “self-possessed young lady.” As Vera tells her tale, the reader becomes aware of a change in her. Saki states that, “Here the child’s voice lost its self-possessed note and became falteringly human.” She ends the story with a shudder. These details lend credibility to Vera’s story.

Vera, with perfect timing, ends her story just as her aunt enters the room. The reader now returns to the original story and learns that Mrs. Sappleton is quite bored with Mr. Nuttel’s self-absorbed talk. She seems to be preoccupied with the French window. Finally, as she remarks that her husband and brothers are returning, Mr. Nuttel notes a look of “dazed terror” on Vera’s face. Believing that he is seeing ghosts, he flees from the house. In another example of excellent timing, Vera explains that he must be afraid of the dog, based on a story she says he shared. Saki then informs the reader that “Romance at short notice was her specialty.” This statement provides further evidence that the author values the art of telling a good story.

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What is the message of the story "The Open Window"?

One message to the reader of "The Open Window" is that it is often difficult to decipher the truth in a person's narrative about an incident. Moreover, those who possess such talent of being able to weave cleverly deceptive tales can easily manipulate others.

Vera, whose name suggests truth, possesses the "specialty" to create  "[R]omance at short notice." Her talent lies in her ability to identify susceptibilities in her audience and then blur the lines between reality and creativity in order to weave her tale so that it will have disturbing effects upon her listener(s).

When she is sent to entertain Mrs. Sappleton's guest, Framton Nuttel, Vera first ascertains whether he is acquainted with the area or anyone living there. When Nuttel replies that he knows "[H]ardly a soul," Vera immediately recognizes that she can unleash her spectacular imagination and weave a gothic tale of her uncle and cousins' having been lost in a bog with such verve that it will both captivate and, then, as its denouement becomes reality, terrify the neurotic guest.

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What is the framing story of "The Open Window"?

This is a great question as you have identified one important aspect of this darkly humorous short story. A framing narrative or framing story is a literary term we apply to any text which contains a story within a story, or where in the middle of the text, one character tells another character a different story, and we go through different levels of narration. Thus it is that famous novels such as Wuthering Heights and The Turn of the Screw feature framing narratives, because we start of with one narrator who then quickly narrates what another character has narrated to him, if you understand that.

Let us look at "The Open Window" as an example. The narration starts off focussing on Mr. Framton Nuttel and his meeting of Vera. This is the framing narrative, because very quickly we are told the story within a story from Vera, about the supposed fate of her uncles. Then we have the frame again before Vera tells another quick tale to explain Mr. Nuttel's hastly departure. Framing narratives literally "frame" or go around the story within a story.

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What is the story outline of "The Open Window"?

In The Open Window, the rising action occurs as Frampton Nuttel arrives at the Sappleton home and is told the story by Vera, Mrs. Sappleton's niece.  She explains to him in great detail that the window remains open as a memorial in waiting.  Her aunt expects the return of her husband's hunting party which was lost in the marsh. 

Vera is very convincing in her story, she has Mr. Nuttel scared to death and convinced that Mrs. Sappleton is insane. 

The climax of the story is when Mrs. Sappleton announces that she sees her husband and brothers coming towards the house. 

"Nuttel turns to Vera to extend his sympathy, but Vera is staring out through the open window with a look of horror in her eyes. Nuttel tums around to the window and sees Mrs. Sappleton's husband and brothers walking across the lawn, a spaniel following them, and hears a voice singing "Bertie, why do you bound?'' Nuttel grabs his hat and walking stick and flees from the house."

The resolution of the story occurs as Mrs. Sappleton, puzzled by Mr. Nuttel's hasty departure from her home, is told by Vera that he ran out of the house because of the dog that was approaching the house.  You see, said Vera in the resolution, he told me he was terrified of dogs.    

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