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

The Open Window

by Saki

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What was the author's purpose in writing "The Open Window"?

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The story is actually quite amusing, and it would seem that Saki's purpose in writing it was mainly to provide amusement. The girl who tells the guest the supernatural part of the story is likeable in spite of being mischievous. She is intelligent and imaginative. We can't help but like her and even understand how she would get amusement out of shaking up the stodgy atmosphere of the country estate where she is expected to lead the life of a docile, well-brought-up young lady. She is the most interesting character in the story. She manages to make something uncanny about a familiar scene in that part of the country--three men approaching the house in the twilight accompanied by a brown spaniel. Vera shows impressive visual imaginative in imagining how the appearance of these three hunters will seem ghostly to the nervous visitor. Mr. Nuttel the visitor is given the character traits he needs to be frightened out of his wits. He is extremely nervous and apprehensive to begin with. The story has no great significance. It is written for amusement, not unlike the Jeeves stories of P. G. Wodehouse. It provides a glimpse of country life among the privileged classes in England. It is so cleverely plotted that it has become a short story classic and is considered Saki's most popular work.

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What is the theme or author's point for writing "The Open Window"?

In the short story, "The Open Window," by Saki, the author writes to entertain. That is the point of the author's story. He uses Vera, a mischievous niece, to tell a tall tale, that frightens Framton Nuttel. Overall, the story is entertaining from the beginning of Vera's tall tale until the end of the tall tale. Not only is Mr. Nuttel afraid when the three men begin walking toward the open window, but the reader is just as uneasy.

The short story offers not only entertainment, but it offers insight into the heart of mankind. The theme is deception. Without the niece's deception, there would be no story:

Were it not for deception, this story could not happen. The action and irony of the story revolve around the apparent deception that Mrs. Sappleton's niece practices. It remains to be seen, however, whether this deception is a harmless prank or the result of a sinister disposition. If the niece's deception is cruel, then the reader must question the motives behind the deception practiced by all tellers of stories, including Saki himself.

Also, the theme of appearance versus reality is evident in this story. Can it be for real that these men are walking toward the open window after four years of being missing. What is real and what is not real:

When Mr. Nuttel (and the reader) are presented with a contrary reality at the end of the story, the result is a tension between appearance and reality that needs to be resolved: Which is real? Can they both be real?

Finally, there is a theme of sanity versus sanity. There is a fine line line between the two. Is Mr. Nuttel losing his mind right along with Mrs. Sappleton? Apparently, he can see what she can see and should not be seeing:

Nuttel's susceptibility to deceit is no different from that of the reader of the story. Yet Mr. Nuttel is insane, and the reader, presumably, is not. In order to maintain this distinction, Saki forces his reader to consider the nature of insanity and its causes.

The above themes entertain the reader and keep the reader in suspense until the end of the Vera's tall tale.

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What is one thing the author is trying to say in "The Open Window"?

Framton Nuttel is a neurotic. He has been advised by several London doctors to get away from the stressful city and relax in the peaceful English countryside. This was about all, besides an ocean voyage, that doctors in those days were able to advise patients with ailments that did not have obvious physical causes. Nowadays, of course, there would be some doctors who would prescribe all sorts of tranquilizers and other doctors who would prescribe expensive psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is often called "talk therapy," and Nuttel seems to be trying to get talk therapy from strangers without paying for it. When Nuttel goes to the country he finds that it is just as stressful as the big city, if not more so. In the country, people are more free to indulge their eccentricities. All the people Nuttel meets at the Sappletons' home seem crazy, including fifteen-year-old Vera, who makes up the wildest tales. So one thing Saki seems to be saying is that people in the country are just as crazy as people in the city, if not more so.

Another thing Saki seems to be trying to say in his story is that a person shouldn't inflict his ailments, imaginary or otherwise, on other people. There is nothing the Sappletons can do to help Nuttel. He is imposing on them. He seems to be aware that his presence is an imposition. He is using letters of introduction from his sister, who stayed in the area briefly four years ago, and is taking great liberties by writing these letters of introduction to virtual strangers who hardly remember her. The sister may think that country people lead such dull lives that they will be happy to have a visitor from the city. Nuttel gets the scare of his life when the three "ghosts" return towards the open window--but the reader can't help feeling that he is getting what he deserves.

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