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

The Open Window

by Saki

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Discussion Topic

Mood and tone in "The Open Window"

Summary:

The mood of "The Open Window" shifts from nervousness and concern to suspense and confusion, and finally to humor and irony as the twist unfolds. The tone is initially serious and matter-of-fact, setting up the story's suspenseful and grave moments, but ultimately reveals an ironic attitude, highlighting the humor in Vera's deception.

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What are three types of mood and the tone in "The Open Window"?

Since the mood is determined by how the reader might feel while reading a story, one might feel nervous for Frampton Nuttel as he waits to meet strangers with letters of introduction from his sister. While waiting for adults to arrive, a 15-year-old tells him of a tragedy that struck the family three years prior to his visit. This news would cause one to feel concern for the family Nuttel is visiting. As the girl reveals the story behind a hunting accident allegedly involving her uncle and two cousins, the mood seems tragic and creepy because her Aunt leaves the window open for their possible return. The author's tone seems serious because he's setting the reader up for the twist at the end, just as the girl sets up Nuttel.

When the aunt finally does meet Nuttel, she is cheerfully talking about her husband and boys out hunting, which causes confusion. Yet as the men return, the tone of the story seems grave in order to keep the reader wondering if the men really are hurt or not.

"In the deepening twilight three figures were walking across the lawn toward 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?'"

Rather than stay to see the outcome, Nuttel hightails it back to where he came from, leaving the reader probably feeling duped just as Nuttel was.

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What are three types of mood and the tone in "The Open Window"?

The mood of a story is the feeling it causes the reader to experience while reading it. The tone is the attitude the author seems to have toward the story.

In "The Open Window," the initial mood is matter-of-fact. Saki uses third-person point of view to describe Mr. Nuttel's situation and his arrival at the house. As the story progresses and Vera begins to tell her supernatural tall tale, the mood becomes suspenseful. Once the story is concluded, and the reader is fully aware that Vera has pulled a fast one, the mood is both humorous and ironic.

Saki's tone is ironic without being sarcastic.

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What is the tone of "The Open Window"?

The tone of "The Open Window" is typical of Saki: detached, witty, and urbane. Saki was much influenced by Oscar Wilde, who said that in matters of vital importance, "style, not sincerity is the vital thing." His stories steer clear of deep feelings and strong emotions, and his droll, precise narration provides a humorous contrast to the awkwardness and literal-mindedness of the nervous Framton Nuttel.

When Vera introduces herself self-deprecatingly, saying that Framton will have to "try and put up with" her while waiting for Mrs. Sappleton, the author observes:

Framton Nuttel endeavoured to say the correct something which should duly flatter the niece of the moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to come.

The balance and poise of this sentence is a fine example of Saki's style. It is undoubtedly a very much better sentence than whatever it was that Framton actually said. The three points of contrast at the end (duly-niece-moment, unduly-aunt-to come) form such a polished phrase that it reads almost like a parody of Walter Pater, John Ruskin, or one of the other great exponents of nineteenth-century mandarin prose.

It is also worth noting how Vera's recital of the Sappleton family tragedy is handled. The entire narrative is confined to one paragraph, only half of which actually concerns the deaths of the three men. Even death is crisply and succinctly described, with no gory details. Saki allows his heroine full use of her imagination, but the style in which it is expressed must always be tightly controlled.

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