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

The Open Window

by Saki

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What are Vera's characteristics in "The Open Window"?

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Vera, in "The Open Window," is characterized by her malicious enjoyment in telling elaborate lies, often exploiting others' weaknesses for her amusement. She desires power and control, which she achieves through her deceptions, making her feel superior. Despite her passive-aggressive behavior and cruel streak, Vera is admired for her poise, creativity, intelligence, and audacity. Ironically, Vera, meaning "true" in Latin, is a master of mendacity. Her social class and good manners are evident, as is her self-deprecating humor and high opinion of herself. She is also an artful actress and gifted storyteller.

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A chief characteristic of Vera—and the one that drives the story—is malice, which is the trait of doing evil for pleasure. Vera tells elaborate lies for the sense of enjoyment it gives her. This goes along with her cruel streak: when she finds out, for example, that Nuttel is suffering from a nervous disorder, she does her best through her lying to exploit that weakness in him, play on it, and drive him further into anxiety—so much so that he flees the house in terror.

Vera seems to have a strong desire for power, which perhaps reflects her sense of a being a powerless adolescent in her aunt's house. She gains power and control over others through telling lies. She can feel superior to those around her through her lying, because it leaves her knowing truths they don't and playing them for fools.

Vera's behavior shows she is passive aggressive. Her upbringing as a lady with good manners means she can't outwardly say that she finds Mr. Nuttel a bore who has been thrust on her or her aunt and uncle a fool, so she manipulates them using lies as her outlet.

We like Vera, however, on some level, because she poised, creative, intelligent, quick-witted, expert at her ploys, and very daring and audacious—perhaps the epitome of the artist. Our shock comes in the slippage between our expectations of how a well-brought up and polite teenage girl should act and her malicious behavior.

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The name Vera means "true" in Latin, a spectacular irony, since Vera's most outstanding characteristic is her mendacity. Vera does not tell lies to benefit herself or to escape punishment. She does not tell small, practical, evasive lies. She tells huge, elaborate baroque lies, because she is a master of the art of making things up. Since this is also a characteristic of the author, it is natural that Saki shares her perspective and her enjoyment.

Apart from her relish in lying, Vera is described as "a very self-possessed young lady." This establishes her social class (at least upper-middle, possibly higher) and the fact that she has excellent manners and poise. Her initial remark that Framton "must try and put up with" her while he is waiting for her aunt establishes the elaborate and completely insincere self-deprecation which has been regarded as a mark of good manners in England since the Victorian era. It is clear that Vera has a good opinion of herself. She is certainly well aware that she is more entertaining company than Mrs. Sappleton, but her social training leads her to open with this false modesty.

Finally, Vera is extremely intelligent and artful, a fine actress as well as a gifted storyteller. The details with which she embellishes her story and her final improvisation concerning Framton's fear of dogs after a traumatic experience in India are related by Saki with the relish and respect of a kindred spirit and a fellow artist.

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Vera is the most important character in "The Open Window." Saki needed someone who would prepare Framton Nuttel for a big shock when the three supposedly dead hunters returned at dusk. It couldn't be Mrs. Sappleton because it would be completely out of character for her to play such a trick. It had to be a mischievous child--but not too young because a young child couldn't bring it off convincingly. A boy or a girl? A girl would be best because a boy would probably be off hunting with the other males. She couldn't be too old, either. An older girl probably wouldn't have that same mischievous spirit. Fifteen was the best age for the author's purposes. He twice describes Vera as "self-possessed."

"My aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel," said a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; "in the meantime you must try and put up with me."

"Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?" pursued the self-possessed young lady.

Throughout the story Vera acts completely self-possessed--calm, cool, collected, poised, self-assured. Saki's purpose in emphasizing that Vera was "self-possessed" was to make it possible for her to terrify Framton at the end when the three hunters appear outside.

The child was staring out through the open window with dazed horror in her eyes.

Vera pretends to lose all her self possession, and the contrast, the sudden loss of her poise and self-assurance, convinces Framton that she is really looking at three ghosts. It seems possible that Vera gets a stronger reaction out of the nervous guest than she expected. She is perhaps a better actress than she realized. But she quickly recovers her habitual "self-possession" and makes up a weird tale to explain Framton's abrupt departure.

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Vera is a fifteen-year-old girl who has a vivid intelligence and must do a lot of reading. She is mischievous, but she is not too much different from girls her age who like to play practical jokes on people. On the surface she is very polite and “self-possessed,” but underneath she has a secret sadistic streak which strangers and even close relatives would not suspect. No doubt she finds her life very boring at the age of fifteen, since the story is set in a time when women in general had little freedom and girls her age had even less. Judging from the characters described in Saki’s story, there is no one even approximately Vera’s age for her to relate to. She must spend a great deal of time by herself and probably indulges in all sorts of fantasies. She is a shrewd judge of people. She senses immediately that the visitor Framton Nuttel is a bundle of nerves and a hypochondriac. She foresees how he would react to a ghost story and invents one on the spot to watch his reaction and prvide herself with some welcome amusement. There is a similarity between this story and Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” For some reason, we don’t feel sorry for Nuttel, just as we don’t feel sorry for Ichabod Crane.

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Vera's main characteristic is that she is bored. The fact that she is obviously very intelligent as well as imaginative only adds to her boredom. She is confined to a household in which the same exact things happen every day. The three males go out hunting and are expected back at tea time. They are always accompanied by the spaniel. They always enter by the tall window which is left open for them. She knows that Bertie always sings the same song--"I said, Bertie, why do you bound?"-- as a way of announcing their arrival. Her aunt has become so accustomed to the monotonous routine in this stereotypical English country setting that she always talks about the same subjects, based on information derived from the three men, who provide just about the only conversation she ever hears.

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

Vera's boredom inspires her to create some excitement by making up a story which will be substantiated by the repetition of all the boring events of daily life she is so familiar with. Her aunt and the three hunters are like living symbols of the girl's utter boredom. They are completely dependable in their routine existences. She knows exactly what they will all do and say. It is no wonder that "romance at short notice was her specialty," since her only escape from boredom is in her imagination.

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What are Vera's main characteristics in Saki's "The Open Window"?

Vera might be compared with adolescent Briony Tallis in the novel Atonement by Ian McEwan, published in 2001. The novel was made into an excellent motion picture in 2007 and won many prestigious awards. It won an Academy Award for Best Original Score and was nominated for six other Academy Awards, which is quite unusual for a foreign film. The photography, costuming, and settings are all exceptionally good. Both Vera and Briony appear innocent and ingenuous, but both have hidden mean streaks. Vera's transgression is comical, but Briony's is very serious. Both girls tell untrue stories, but Briony's story gets an innocent man sent to prison.

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What are Vera's main characteristics in Saki's "The Open Window"?

Mrs. Sappleton has completely accepted and adjusted to her role as a housewife and hostess in a big country home. But Vera is only fifteen years old. She is restless and bored. Being a girl, she can't go hunting with the men and probably has no desire to do so anyway. She wouldn't want to get all cold and muddy, and she wouldn't want to kill innocent birds. Mrs. Sappleton probably sends Vera to greet Framton Nuttel because the older woman wants the girl to get some experience acting as a hostess and preparing herself to become something like Mrs. Sappleton herself. But Vera doesn't want to be another woman whose life revolves around men who think about and talk about nothing but hunting. Vera obviously wants more freedom and excitement in life, but she only gets it through reading and fantasies. Saki chose a fifteen-year-old girl because she is just old enough to be convincing and just young enough to be full of mischief. 

Vera and Framton make good contrasting characters, or "foils." Vera is young, Framton is middle-aged. Vera is female, Framton is male. Vera is relaxed and "self-possessed," Framton is a nervous wreck. Vera wants excitement, Framton wants to avoid all excitement. Vera is imaginative and articulate, Framton has little to talk about except his nervous troubles. Vera also contrasts with her aunt when Mrs. Sappleton arrives in the living room. They are both females, but they are entirely different types. Mrs. Sappleton looks forward to the men's return, while Vera is bored with the sameness of their talk and behavior and decides to use it for her ghost story. Mrs. Sappleton can only seem to talk about one subject--shooting birds. The fact that Framton complains about his bad nerves only serves Vera as an inspiration. She would not tell the same story to a different type of visitor. 

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What are Vera's main characteristics in Saki's "The Open Window"?

This short story contains an absolutely fascinating character who is the mastermind behind the story of "The Open Window." Vera, of course, is the storyteller without equal, who is quickly able to seize on details and weave convincing tales to horrific effect. Note how she dominates the story - it begins with her words and ends with them. We are told in the first sentence that she is "a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen". It is clear that she sees in Framton Nuttel an object for one of her stories, as she is quick to establish that he knows nobody from the area and thus she is free to use her excellent wit and intelligence to create a fable that will shock Framton Nuttel for her own amusement. She shows herself to be an excellent actor as well as a storyteller. Consider how the author narrates her duping of Framton Nuttel:

Here the child's voice lost its self-possessed note and became falteringly human... She broke off with a shudder.

She is not only creative, but quick, intelligent and able to fool others into believing her words. This is demonstrated yet again at the end of the tale when, nonchalantly, she creates another tale to explain Framton Nuttel's swift escape from the house to trick her family, telling the tale "calmly" with complete equanimity. Clearly this tale celebrates the power that a good storyteller can have over a susceptible audience, with Vera presented as the master storyteller, and everyone else her ignorant and naive victims.

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What are some inferences that you might have for Vera's character from Saki's "The Open Window"?

All the adult characters in the story would regard Framton Nuttel as a terrible bore, a nuisance, and a pain in the neck. The fact is that nobody likes to hear about other people's aches and pains, or doctor visits, or diagnoses. He is imposing on these total strangers, and he must be aware that he is doing it. They hardly knew his sister, and they don't know him at all. The sister is imposing on them because she had a relationship with their local vicar. Vera is the only one who is still not "civilized," and we instinctively like her because we identify with her feelings, her rebellious spirit, and her bizarre sense of humor. The unique thing about this particular story is that it is actually very funny but none of the characters laughs. The adults don't understand what is going on. Vera understands but she can't betray her amusement. Poor Framton Nuttel is only observed in his headlong flight by the reader.

Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall-door, the gravel-drive, and the front gate were dimly-noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid an imminent collision.

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What are some inferences that you might have for Vera's character from Saki's "The Open Window"?

Frampton Nuttel suffers from a nervous condition.  He travels to a rural community to seek a treatment, his path ostensibly being paved through the well-intentioned intervention of his sister, who has lived in this particular community and knows its inhabitants.  H.H. Munro’s (Saki) protagonist is clearly an individual on edge, his mental stability a matter of some concern.  As Munro’s introduction to Frampton indicates, his is a lonely and anxious existence, with human interaction kept to a self-imposed minimum.  His sister provides him letters of introduction to the town’s people so that Frampton will not be without resources:

“I’ll just give you letters to all the people I know there,” his sister had said.  “Otherwise, you’ll bury yourself and not speak to a soul and your nerves will worse than ever from moping.”

That the first person Frampton encounters should be the precocious and mischievous Vera, then, can only be considered a cruel twist of fate.  Vera is quick and not afraid to play practical jokes on total strangers.  A hint of this occurs early in these two characters’ meeting.  Conceding that he knows nobody in town, including Vera’s aunt, the young girl immediately senses an opportunity:

“Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?” pursued the self-possessed young lady.

We do not yet know of Vera’s nature, let alone her intentions, but Munro’s description of her as “self-possessed” indicates that she will play an important role in the story, and that that role will not necessarily be beneficial to the story’s outcome.  Vera’s manipulation of the adults for her own gratification and entertainment may be the innocent jocularity of an immature child, but it could also be indicative of a deeper psychological condition on her part.  Inferences that could be drawn regarding Vera, then, can run the gamut from innocent playfulness to psychotic tendencies towards duplicity.  The extremely rapid rate at which she adapts to changing situations or environments with false testimony suitable for the moment can suggest a propensity towards deception that will manifest itself in more grave situations as she matures as an adult.  The jokes she plays on Frampton and on her aunt are humorous, and she’s too young (presumably) to appreciate the consequences of her actions, but there is something troubling about her ability to navigate her deceptions so fluidly and without any sense of remorse.  Such is the stuff of which psychopaths are made.

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Describe the character of Vera in "The Open Window" by Saki.

All the characters in "The Open Window," like most characters in short stories and novels, were created by the author in order to suit the needs of his plot. They are not real people, so it is a mistake to try to analyze them too deeply, as if they were flesh-and-blood human beings. Saki needed someone to tell Framton a wild story about how three men were killed by being sucked into a bog while out hunting, and how Mrs. Sappleton, who lost her mind when that tragedy occurred, is still waiting for them to return home for tea after three years. Saki decided to have an adolescent girl tell the visitor the story. Framton is an ideal victim, or "patsy," because he is a complete stranger to the region and therefore will accept Vera's story at face value.

Vera is just young enough to want to engage in such mischief and just old enough to be convincing. She is described as being very "self-possessed." Being a Victorian girl, she has very little freedom. She is bored with hearing the same stories about shooting birds and bored with her aunt's conversation, which centers on the activities and interests of the three men in her life. Vera must spend a great deal of her time reading, since there is little else for her to do. Because the men dominate the household, it would seem that the library must contain many books on travel and adventure that would interest men. No doubt Vera has read many of these books and feels even more bored with her life because of the contrast between her reading material and her dull existence. Poor Framton Nuttel will become the victim of this girl's frustrations.

When the men return from shooting and Mr. Sappleton asks his wife, "Who was that who bolted out as we came up?", the self-possessed Vera comes up with an explanation she must have taken straight out of a book about adventures in India.

"He was once hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to make anyone lose their nerve."

Vera is a character created to fit the plot of "The Open Window." She is smart, imaginative, self-possessed, bored with life, entering a stage of teenage rebelliousness, addicted to escapist reading, and secretly wishing she could create a little uproar in this stereotypical English country manor. She might be compared with thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis in Ian McEwan's novel Atonement. 

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