The Open Window

by

Saki

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The Open Window Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Vera, a “self-possessed” young woman, greets Framton Nuttel, who has just arrived at her house. Vera says that her aunt will be down soon to see Mr. Nuttel, and that in the meantime he will have to “put up with” Vera.
Vera’s immediate confidence foreshadows her ability to control the adults around her. Her calculated self-deprecation in this moment is meant to reduce her importance in her guest’s eyes.
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Mr. Nuttel attempts to think of an appropriate greeting to flatter Vera without going so far as to belittle her aunt, Mrs. Sappleton. He ends up saying nothing.
Social propriety is overly complicated and absurd; Mr. Nuttel is so concerned with saying the right thing that he can think of nothing to say.
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Privately, Mr. Nuttel doubts whether these visits with strangers, prearranged by his sister to make sure he does not mope in the countryside, will do any good for his anxiety. He further wonders about his sister’s comment that only “some” of the people to him he is being introduced are “nice.”
Mr. Nuttel’s lack of interest in, and judgment of, the people to whom his sister has written reflects the shallowness and insincerity of certain social customs.
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After “sufficient silent communion” has elapsed, Vera asks Mr. Nuttel about his knowledge of the area. Mr. Nuttel replies that he knows next to nothing about Mrs. Sappleton, and that his sister is the one who gave him letters of introduction.
Propriety continues to lead to stilted, unnatural social interactions. Vera uses this to her advantage as she pries into Mr. Nuttel’s knowledge of the area, playing the role of polite hostess in order to gauge how much fiction she can get away with later.
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Vera tells Mr. Nuttel that Mrs. Sappleton’s “great tragedy” happened three years prior, after Mr. Nuttel’s sister’s time in the country. Mr. Nuttel feels that any tragedy would be out of place in such a restful location.
Mr. Nuttel’s romantic preconceptions about country life are incompatible with tragedy. Vera artfully positions this “tragedy” as having taken place after Mr. Nuttel’s sister had left, which explains why he never heard about it.
Themes
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Vera points out a large open window, commenting that Mr. Nuttel may wonder why it has been left open on an October afternoon. She proceeds to tell her guest that three years ago, her aunt’s husband and brothers, along with their spaniel, went out through the window to go shooting. One man wore a white waterproof coat. They were “engulfed by a treacherous bog” on the trip and died. She laments that the conditions that summer were very wet.
This is the first mention of the titular open window, which Vera transforms from a mundane household object into a centerpiece of tragedy. Her use of specific details makes her story more believable. The men’s manner of death is so absurd, however, as to be farcical; Saki is satirizing elements of traditional tragic romances.
Themes
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The Romance of Hypochondria  Theme Icon
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Mr. Nuttel notes that Vera’s voice has become less self-assured, and instead is “falteringly human.” She continues, saying that her aunt believes the men will still return some day, her younger brother Ronnie singing “Bertie, why do you bound?” to tease her, and that is why the window is kept open. On quiet nights, Vera herself fears that the dead men will walk through the window.
Mr. Nuttel is convinced by Vera, who clearly knows how to act like an innocent young girl. She plays up her own terror to further unnerve her guest, and her suggestion of the men returning through the window adds suspense to the scene.
Themes
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Mrs. Sappleton enters the room, much to Mr. Nuttel’s relief, and asks her guest if Vera has been amusing him. Mrs. Sappleton apologizes to Mr. Nuttel for the open window, remarking that her husband and brothers enter the house that way to avoid dirtying the carpet. Mr. Nuttel is horrified as she rambles on about hunting, and he notices that her eyes keep wandering toward the window. He considers it an “unfortunate coincidence” to have visited on such a tragic anniversary.
Mrs. Sappleton’s entrance breaks the building tension. Her light demeanor sharply contrasts with Vera’s story, while her preoccupation with the window makes her appear delusional to the newly-conned Mr. Nuttel. His pity for Mrs. Sappleton is ironic, given that he is the one being made a fool.
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Mr. Nuttel attempts to change the subject by discussing the intricacies of his own ailments and prescriptions, laboring “under the tolerably widespread delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least detail of one's ailments and infirmities, their cause and cure.” Mrs. Sappleton barely stifles her yawn.
Saki mocks those who, like Mr. Nuttel, believe their ailments to be of interest to strangers. Even the proper, polite Mrs. Sappleton appears bored.
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Mrs. Sappleton suddenly brightens to attention to something outside, and then excitedly remarks that her brother and husband have arrived just in time for tea. Mr. Nuttel pities her delusion, before catching a look of terror on Vera’s face.
Mr. Nuttel has been completely taken in by Vera, and his condescending pity is quickly replaced by fear. Vera continues to act the part of a frightened, innocent girl.
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Turning to look out the window himself, Mr. Nuttel sees three men and a dog walking across the yard, one with a white raincoat slung over his arm and another singing “Bertie, why do you bound?”—just as in Vera’s story.
The inclusion of details from Vera’s story make Mr. Nuttel think he truly is seeing a pack of ghosts. This scene is one of horror for Mr. Nuttel, relief for Mrs. Sappleton, and humor for the reader who knows the end of the tale.
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Mr. Nuttel sprints out of the house and down the driveway in horror, causing a cyclist “to run into the hedge to avoid imminent collision.”
The abruptness of Mr. Nuttel’s departure contrasts with his earlier calculated propriety, and reveals the extent to which Vera has fooled him. His near run-in with a cyclist adds an element of farce to the scene.
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The men enter the home, and the one with the white coat asks Mrs. Sappleton who the man running past was. She responds that he was a “most extraordinary gentleman,” who left without saying goodbye, in such a hurry that “one would think he had seen a ghost.”
It becomes clear that the men are not ghosts but alive and well. Mr. Nuttel’s exit was thus rude and unnecessary. Mrs. Sappleton ironically says the truth of what happened without knowing it.
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Immediately Vera explains that Mr. Nuttel ran off because of the spaniel, adding that he is scared of dogs due to a traumatic incident in India. The story concludes with the line, “romance at short notice was her specialty.”
Any doubt about the veracity of Vera’s earlier tale is dispelled by her eagerness to whip up a new one. The reader knows that this story about Mr. Nuttel is not true, and thus that Vera has been lying all along. Saki’s final line cements Vera as a clever con artist, while also satirizing traditional notions of romance as weighty and serious.
Themes
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The Romance of Hypochondria  Theme Icon
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