Though it is a remarkably short piece of fiction, “The Open Window” explores a number of important themes. Mr. Nuttel comes to the country in an attempt to cure his nervous condition. He pays a visit to the home of Mrs. Sappleton in order to introduce himself, and before he gets to meet the matron of the house, he is intercepted by her niece, who regales him with an artful piece of fiction that, in the end, only makes his nervous condition worse.
Appearances and Reality
It is no surprise that Mrs. Sappleton’s niece tells a story that is easy to believe. She begins with an object in plain view, an open window, and proceeds from there. The window is obviously open, but for the reasons for its being open the reader is completely at the mercy of Mrs. Sappleton’s niece, at least while she tells her story. The open window becomes a symbol within this story-within-a-story, and its appearance becomes its reality. When Mr. Nuttel (and the reader) are presented with a contrary reality at the end of the story, the result is a tension between appearance and reality that needs to be resolved: Which is real? Can they both be real?
Were it not for deception, this story could not happen. The action and irony of the story revolve around the apparent deception that Mrs. Sappleton’s niece practices. It remains to be seen, however, whether this deception is a harmless prank or the result of a sinister disposition. If the niece’s deception is cruel, then the reader must question the motives behind the deception practiced by all tellers of stories, including Saki himself.
Sanity and Insanity
“The Open Window” shows just how fine the line can be between sanity and insanity. Mr. Nuttel’s susceptibility to deceit is no different from that of the reader of the story. Yet Mr. Nuttel is insane, and the reader, presumably, is not. In order to maintain this distinction, Saki forces his reader to consider the nature of insanity and its causes.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Saki, Published by Gale, 1997.