The Open Window by Saki

A man is stressed.

The doctor recommends time spent in the country.

His sister recommends visiting a friendly rural family.

A young niece entertains the new comer with a spectacular story.

The story electrifies the man’s nerves to cause his sudden exit.

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When you enter another person’s home, you are at the mercy of his or her hospitality. A great deal of trust is required by both parties: for host to trust the guest to demonstrate cordiality towards his or her property and for the guest to trust the host to provide for his or her needs.

In Saki’s short story “The Open Window,” a junior host takes advantage of such trust. By weaving her tale, she leads the listener to become engrossed and shocked by the information. Mr. Nuttel trusts his little hostess to tell the truth about the house he is visiting. In contrast, Vera sees his trust and seems to have challenged herself to see what extent she can increase his anxieties. Though the conflict is throughout the short plot line, itself is not revealed until those closing lines, “Vera loved to make up stories on the spot. She was really quite good at it.”

This internal conflict can be seen in this “very calm young lady of fifteen” as she intentionally increases the believability of her story with information that is later seen as the men return from their hunting trip exactly as she described. Vera describes, “She has often told me how they went out. Her husband had his raincoat over his arm. Ronnie, her younger brother, was singing, ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary.’ He always did that to tease her.”

How far will her fable take her? Far enough for the ill man to sprint out of his hosts house and head for the hills.

Vera’s intentions make the story. Vera’s intentions, though they are not explicit, give the story purpose. If her version of her uncles going hunting were true and Mr. Nuttel still was scared, there would be little purpose in the tale. Appreciatively for us, we have a cautionary story about “truths” as one should always be critical of what one hears.

 

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