“The Open Window” is the story of a deception, perpetrated on an unsuspecting, and constitutionally nervous man, by a young lady whose motivations for lying remain unclear.
The most remarkable of Saki’s devices in “The Open Window” is his construction of the story’s narrative. The structure of the story is actually that of a story-within-a-story. The larger “frame” narrative is that of Mr. Nuttel’s arrival at Mrs. Sappleton’s house for the purpose of introducing himself to her. Within this narrative frame is the second story, that told by Mrs. Sappleton’s niece.
The most important symbol in “The Open Window” is the open window itself. When Mrs. Sappleton’s niece tells Mr. Nuttel the story of the lost hunters, the open window comes to symbolize Mrs. Sappleton’s anguish and heartbreak at the loss of her husband and younger brother. When the truth is later revealed, the open window no longer symbolizes anguish but the very deceit itself. Saki uses the symbol ironically by having the open window, an object one might expect would imply honesty, as a symbol of deceit.
“The Open Window” is a third-person narrative, meaning that its action is presented by a narrator who is not himself involved in the story. This allows a narrator to portray events from a variety of points of view, conveying what all of the characters are doing and what they are feeling or thinking. For most of the story, until he runs from the house, the reader shares Mr. Nuttel’s point of view. Like Mr. Nuttel, the reader is at the mercy of Vera’s story. The reader remains, however, after Mr. Nuttel has fled and thus learns that Vera’s story was nothing but a tall tale.
Vera’s story is essentially a tall tale. Tall tales are often found in folklore and legend and describe people or events in an exaggerated manner. Good examples are the story of John Henry and his hammer, and the story of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Vera exaggerates the significance of the open window by making it the centerpiece of a fabricated tale of tragic loss.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Saki, Published by Gale, 1997.