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

The Open Window

by Saki

Start Free Trial

What are the instances of irony and suspense in Saki's "The Open Window"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"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."

Here, with this quotation, starts the suspense. With Saki's simple opening come two important questions to the reader's mind. The first is how self-possessed can a young lady of fifteen actually be? The second is why does she say "must try and put up with me"? Our interest is piqued and our attention is fine-tuned to see what peculiarities to come will answer the questions and explain her words.

The very next sentence introduces irony.

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.

In addition to situational irony, the narrator's ironic tone is manifest. Ironic humor is evident in the narrator's choice of using repetition to describe Nuttel's conversational predicament: "duly flatter the niece ... unduly discounting the aunt."

Both suspense and irony center around what is soon introduced to the reader's attention. First, the narrator tells that Nuttel notices that an "undefinable something about the room seemed to suggest masculine habitation." Next, the self-possessed niece mentions her aunt's "great tragedy" that "happened just three years ago."

For the duration of the short story, the young lady weaves a tale of her own that builds upon the masculinity of the room and the "great tragedy" and centers around the open window of the title:

"You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on an October afternoon," said the niece, indicating a large French window that opened on to a lawn.

Just a note about the sort of window taking center stage in the story. French windows come in two types and both extend from near the ceiling to the casement at the floor. In either kind, entering or exiting requires a small step up and over the casement that holds the window when closed. One type, the type I imagine in this story, is a single wide pane of glass (perhaps secured in lattice working) that is raised up or lowered down; it can be seen in manor houses in some British movies filmed on location. The second type, with which most are more familiar, has two less wide panes of glass that open and close by swinging apart and together at the middle; these are commonly called "French doors" in America.

The suspense of the story for Nuttel--and for the reader--is whether two men long lost to human knowledge will walk through that open window. For the niece, the suspense is anticipating Nuttel's reaction and the depth of it. For the aunt, there isn't much suspense as she isn't in on the story woven by her self-possessed niece; her experience is more one of bemusement and wonder at Nutell's behavior.

The irony of the story is that the men will walk through the window precisely as predicted as the niece has devised her story to precisely coincide with their routine habit. A second irony is that the niece, who is self-possessed, uses her self-possession to such great disadvantage for other people! The ultimate irony, of course though--and this irony adds the overarching sad tone of the otherwise amusing short story--is that while Nuttel has come on holiday for the health and restoration of his nerves, the young lady is completely shattering his nerves with a devious tale contrived solely for her own amusement.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What theme and motif does Saki use to heighten suspense in "The Open Window"?

Suspense is heightened by the introduction in Vera's story of the supernatural theme. Vera introduces the idea of the supernatural when she says of the three hunters that "their bodies were never recovered" and when she suggests that Mrs. Sappleton expects to see the three hunters return through the open "window just as they used to do" any day. Vera heightens both the theme and the suspense further when she describes just how they went out and, thus, just how they will return and the "creepy feeling" she has that they "will all walk in" through the open window:

her husband with his white waterproof coat over his arm, and Ronnie, her youngest brother, singing 'Bertie, why do you bound?'

Two motifs that recur are the open window and Framton Nuttel's "rest cure" for his nervous complaint. The titular (i.e., in the title) open window motif heightens suspense partly because the window is the dominant thing in the room, extending as it does from ceiling to floor and being wide open as it is on an October day, and partly because of the way Vera looks at it and the subdued, awed tone in which she speaks of it:

"You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on an October afternoon," said the niece, indicating a large French window that opened on to a lawn.

The other, and central, motif the recurs is Framton's rest cure for his nerves. The second paragraph introduces the reader to his rest cure and to the dubiousness he feels about visiting strangers to help his cure. Then we learn from his sister that his rest cure focuses on his nerves, which "will be worse than ever" if his rest cure is not conducted correctly. It comes up again after Framton listens to Mrs. Sappleton "rattle on cheerily" about birds and shooting in a "purely horrible" manner while ever on the look-out for returning hunters, hunters Framton knows as dead corpses. This heightens suspense because we worry with Framton about what will become of him if the ghosts do come through the open French window.

"The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an absence of mental excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical exercise," announced Framton,....

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are the unanswered questions in Saki's "The Open Window" that create suspense in the story?

Saki's "The Open Window" is the story of Vera ("a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen") and Frampton Nuttel (a man visiting strangers as part of his "nerve cure"). Saki, a master of the short story, provides readers with numerous unanswered questions which leave the reader curious about the story and the characters. Here are some suggested questions one may have after reading the story. These questions add to the suspense the reader may feel when finishing the text. 

1) What caused Frampton's nervous condition? (Adds to the curiosity regarding his condition.)

2) Why does going to an unknown person's home a cure for a nervous condition? (Adds confusions.)

3) What is "sufficient silent communion?" (Forces reader to question.) 

4) Why does Saki repeat the fact that Vera is "self-possessed?" (Has reader questioning Vera.) 

5) Why does Vera bring up the window? (May not seem important to the reader.) 

6) Why does Vera act like she does? (Is she bored or a bad person?) 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Where is situational irony used in "The Open Window" by Saki?

Situational irony is a literary device whereby something occurs that is the exact opposite of what we'd normally expect to happen. In "The Open Window," the reader, along with Framton Nuttel, expected that his stay in the country would go some way towards restoring his damaged nerves. A highly neurotic individual, Framton has been sent to the country on doctor's orders for a rest cure. As part of his recuperation, he's planning to pay a visit to some local families in the area, recommended to him by his sister.

One such family is the Sappletons, who live in a large, respectable house—not the kind of place you'd ever expect anything bad to happen. But unfortunately for Framton, something bad does occur. In a classic example of situational irony, he ends up being scared out of his wits by Vera's ghost story, so that when he sees the Sappleton men returning from their hunt through the open window, he assumes that they're the spirits of the dead.

Framton went out into the country to restore his health. And yet look what's happened: his nerves are in an even worse state than they were before. And that's not what he or anyone else could reasonably have expected to happen.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on