“The Open Window” uses its story-within-a-story structure to explore the interplay of truth and imagination. Whether viewed as a cruel prank or an enjoyable practical joke, the stories that Vera makes up in “The Open Window” control the perspectives of everyone around her.
Saki mines comedy from contradicting perspectives, as Vera’s story results in a farcical disconnect between Mr. Nuttel’s experience of the world and Mrs. Sappleton’s. Based on Vera’s story, Mr. Nuttel believes Mrs. Sappleton’s male relatives to have been killed on a hunting trip three years ago, and so Mr. Nuttel finds it “purely horrible” to hear Mrs. Sappleton ramble “cheerfully” on about how the men will soon return. Such light topics are hardly cause for horror, unless one believes (as Mr. Nuttel does) their speaker to be delusional with grief.
On a similar note, Mr. Nuttel’s subsequent attempt to steer the conversation in a “less ghastly” direction by talking about his personal ailments is a nicety that appears deeply strange to Mrs. Sappleton. Lacking the fiction that shapes Mr. Nuttel’s perspective of their meeting, Mrs. Sappleton cannot understand why her guest “could only talk about his illnesses” and why he runs away from the home when her relatives arrive. She instead perceives Mr. Nuttel to simply be a “most extraordinary man”—which is a kind of polite code for what she actually means: that she thinks he’s crazy. Mrs. Sappleton nearly arrives at the truth of the matter when she says of Mr. Nuttel’s hasty exit, “One would think he had seen a ghost.” The irony is she has no idea that, in Mr. Nuttel’s mind, this is precisely what happened.
Saki’s story also makes frequent use both situational and dramatic irony: not only does Vera fool her audience, but “The Open Window” fools its readers as well. At first, the reader has no concrete reason to question Mr. Nuttel’s perception of events nor to disbelieve Vera’s story. In fact, Mr. Nuttel is initially presented as an observant man, noting—correctly—that “an undefinable something” about the Sappleton home “seemed to suggest masculine habitation.” By presenting much of “The Open Window” from Mr. Nuttel’s perspective, Saki puts the reader in the same shoes as his gullible protagonist. And to Mr. Nuttel, Vera appears “falteringly human” and has a look of “dazed horror in her eyes” as the men return from their outing—all evidence that her ghostly story must be true. The specificity and quickness of Vera’s tale further lend it an air of authenticity.
However satirical “The Open Window” may be, it is only upon reaching the end of the story—when Vera invents a reason for Mr. Nuttel’s frantic exit—that the reader can know for certain that Vera has been lying all along. Saki’s prose is restrained in its mockery, with any authorial smirk becoming apparent only after the reader gets to the end of the tale. This shift in perspective changes the entire tone of the story; elements that initially come across as sinister become comedic through dramatic irony (that is, knowing something the characters do not). The delusional figure in the story also shifts from being Mrs. Sappleton to Mr. Nuttel.
As the author of the internal tale, Vera serves as a sort of stand-in for Saki himself (who not coincidentally grew up in an English country house with his aunts). “The Open Window” thus asserts the ability of fiction to alter one’s perception of the world, and the tale is ultimately a testament to the power of storytelling.
Fiction and Perspective ThemeTracker
Fiction and Perspective Quotes in The Open Window
Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back some day, they and the little brown spaniel that was lost with them, and walk in at that window just as they used to do. That is why the window is kept open every evening till it is quite dusk. … Do you know, sometimes on still, quiet evenings like this, I almost get a creepy feeling that they will all walk in through that window - "
She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter. To Framton it was all purely horrible.
In the deepening twilight three figures were walking across the lawn towards the window; they all carried guns under their arms, and one of them was additionally burdened with a white coat hung over his shoulders. A tired brown spaniel kept close at their heels. Noiselessly they neared the house, and then a hoarse young voice chanted out of the dusk: "I said, Bertie, why do you bound?"
"A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel," said Mrs. Sappleton; "could only talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of good-bye or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost."
Romance at short notice was her speciality.