The Lumber Room

by Saki

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How is Nicholas cleverer than his aunt in "The Lumber Room"?

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Nicholas is cleverer than his aunt by skillfully manipulating words and actions to his advantage. He outsmarts her by exploiting her rigid assumptions, predicting the failure of her punishments, distracting her to explore the lumber room, and catching her in a lie when she falls into a rain tank. Ultimately, Nicholas's ingenuity allows him to enjoy his victory while his aunt remains stuck.

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Nicholas is much more clever than his self-appointed aunt because he is skillfully able to manipulate words and actions to his advantage.

  • The first instance of how Nicholas's cleverness defeats his aunt occurs at the beginning of the story as he defends his refusal to eat his "wholesome bread and milk" because there is a frog in his bowl. Immediately, his rigid aunt insists that there "could not possibly be a frog in his bread-and-milk." Of course, Nicholas has counted on both her peremptory nature as he has made his declaration, as well as her crassness that prevents her from analyzing his choice of verb. For, without her analysis of the verb which merely states the present condition without any action, Nicholas has established the veracity of his statement. But the crass aunt declares it impossible for a frog to be in his bowl because she seems to have wrongly assumed that Nicholas is declaring that a frog has somehow appeared and jumped into his bowl, rather than his mere pointing out its existence, and not perpetrating a falsehood.

"...the fact that stood out clearest in the whole affair, as it presented itself to the mind of Nicholas, was that the older, wiser, and better people had been proved to be profoundly in error in matters about which they had expressed the utmost assurance."

  • A second instance of the clever nature of Nicholas occurs when the aunt metes out punishment to him for his prank of placing the frog in his bowl, making him stay home while the others go to Jagborough Cove. He correctly predicts that his cousins and younger brother will not have fun at the beach while he remains at home because he has noticed that his boy-cousin's boots are too tight while his aunt has ignored the boy's complaints twice. Also, Nicholas may be aware that the tides are at their highest on this day, so the beach has been covered with water when the children arrive, thus preventing any play in the sand, a fact that the aunt has not considered.
  • A third instance of Nicholas's superiority comes from his causing the aunt to believe that he wishes to be in the gooseberry garden, which she has forbidden him to enter. As she guards the garden assiduously, Nicholas easily enters the lumber room where he delights in flights of fancy with no worry of discovery.
  • A fourth instance of Nicholas's more clever nature occurs after the aunt falls into a rain tank in the gooseberry garden. Unable to climb out, the aunt cries for help, but Nicholas ignores her. Finally, he closes the book of birds that he has been looking at, locks the lumber room, and goes outside to the garden. He asks who is calling him, and the aunt tells him that she has fallen and cannot get out of the rain tank. 

    "'Your voice doesn't sound like aunt's,' objected Nicholas; 'you may be the Evil One tempting me to be disobedient. Aunt often tells me that the Evil One tempts me and that I always yield. This time I'm not going to yield.'"

    Nicholas says he does not know the voice is his aunt's, and it may be the voice of the Evil One tempting him. As a test, he asks if there will be strawberry jam for tea. His aunt replies, "Certainly there will be" in order to get him to help her. However, Nicholas cleverly responds, 

"'Now I know that you are the Evil One and not aunt,' shouted Nicholas gleefully; 'when we asked aunt for strawberry jam yesterday she said there wasn't any. I know there are four jars of it in the store cupboard, because I looked, and of course you know it's there, but she doesn't, because she said there wasn't any. Oh, Devil, you have sold yourself!'"

Cleverly, Nicholas has caught his aunt in her previous lie. So, he tells the "Devil" he cannot enter the garden and she remains stuck in the tank until a kitchen maid rescues her. That evening the ingenious Nicholas, who has outsmarted his aunt, enjoys his victory as he luxuriates in his reverie about the tapestry in the lumber room.

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