The Open Window Themes
The main themes in “The Open Window” are appearances versus reality, the discomfort of company, and the suspension of disbelief.
- Appearances versus reality: Vera's stories present false appearances, concealing the reality behind them and causing great misunderstanding for Framton.
- The discomfort of company: The interactions between Framton and the Sappleton family are uncomfortable due to the situation at hand, Framton's character, and Vera's untruths.
- The suspension of disbelief: The story cleverly remarks on the suspension of disbelief that all fiction depends on, forcing readers to confront their own gullibility.
Appearances versus Reality
Saki’s “The Open Window” explores the tenuous territory between appearances and reality. In the world of the story, this divide between appearances and reality is artificial, for it is created by Vera, whose false accounts present the realities at hand in misleading ways.
During the initial conversation between Vera and Framton, Vera takes advantage of Framton’s ignorance and lack of context to tell a tall tale. It is notable that the story Vera invents hinges on a tangible feature of the environment: the open window. She then constructs the story of Mrs. Sappleton’s deceased husband and brothers by drawing on real elements. Beyond the detail of the open window, Vera also draws on the fact that the three hunters are out hunting and will presumably return soon. In light of these facts, her fiction frames their eventual return in a ghostly manner, reconfiguring that event to play upon Framton’s imagination.
It is key that Vera’s falsities depend on the absence of the people she is lying about. In her initial story about Mrs. Sappleton’s grief over her husband and brothers, it is essential that all of those characters are momentarily gone from the scene, allowing her to manipulate Framton’s imagination without any intrusions of truth. Likewise, in the case of her second story, in which she falsely details Framton’s terrible fear of dogs, it is essential that Framton has left, leaving her free to frame his sudden flight with a fresh—and believable—lie.
Although the deceptions in this story are of a light-hearted nature, they show how effectively a single person can manipulate the truth, tricking others into believing false appearances rather than the reality at hand.
The Discomfort of Company
“The Open Window” dramatizes the often uncomfortable nature of social situations, particularly encounters with strangers or new acquaintances. There are several sources of social discomfort and awkwardness in the story: Framton’s unfamiliarity with the Sappletons, Framton’s nervous and tedious nature, and Vera’s falsehoods.
The cause of Framton’s visit is a source of social awkwardness. His sister has written a letter of introduction, which Framton is meant to give to Mrs. Sappleton as a means to ease the beginning of their rapport. It is clear that this situation is somewhat uncomfortable, because Framton knows nothing about Mrs. Sappleton except that she is, according to his sister’s vague account, “quite nice.” Framton doubts the entire endeavor of meeting his new neighbors by way of introductory letters, and he mentions this method to Vera “in a tone of distinct regret.”
Another cause for social discomfort is Framton’s character. He is given to both nervousness and tediousness. At the start of the story, he reflects on his misgivings about meeting his new neighbors, expressing doubt about “whether these formal visits on a succession of total strangers would do much towards helping the nerve cure which he was supposed to be undergoing.” It is notable that while he ponders this, he is allowing a silence to grow in his conversation with Vera. Later in the story, Framton tries to introduce a topic of conversation as he speaks to Mrs. Sappleton, and he chooses to talk about the details of his nerve cure. Mrs. Sappleton finds this subject so boring that she must feign interest.
Finally, Vera’s tales introduce social tensions by creating false impressions. Framton feels deeply uncomfortable and unnerved when he hears Mrs. Sappleton’s remarks about the return of her husband and brothers. Because of Vera’s story, he believes he is witnessing an episode of sheer delusion, but in reality her remarks are straightforward and quite quotidian. Vera’s stories also directly...
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lead to Framton’s uncouth exit from the house when he sees the hunters’ return. Overall, “The Open Window” is a story brimming with various forms of social discomfort.
The Suspension of Disbelief
“The Open Window” comments on the suspension of disbelief that all storytelling is built upon. Saki’s story-within-a-story structure encourages readers to initially believe that Vera’s ominous tale is true. Because Framton is the story’s viewpoint character until the moment he flees, readers know as much—and as little—as Framton knows for the majority of the story. It is only in the final four paragraphs that readers come to understand the false nature of Vera’s story.
In this way, “The Open Window” turns the traditional story on its head, showing how stories depend on a suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience. The audience of Vera’s story includes both Framton and readers. Although Framton is, in the end, made to look like a fool, readers are encouraged to examine their own reactions to Vera’s ghostly tale and question their own degree of gullibility.
As such, “The Open Window” can be viewed as an example of metafiction—a piece of fiction about the nature of fiction. Every fictional story requires some suspension of disbelief on the part of its audience. In “The Open Window,” readers are encouraged to suspend disbelief as they consider Vera’s tale, but that suspension of disbelief is then proven to serve a lie. The sudden revelation of the fictitiousness of Vera’s tale is unmistakable, but a similar revelation could be made of any story or piece of fiction, including “The Open Window” itself. Thus, Saki cleverly shows readers their own willingness to approach stories and tales on their own terms, no matter how false or outlandish.