The Open Window Setting

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will analyze the setting of 'The Open Window' by Saki (H.H. Munro), a short story about a man who attempts to calm his nerves by going on vacation only to find himself in an even more upsetting situation.

Background

When life gets to be too much, where do you go to relax? In Saki's The Open Window, Framton Nuttel, the protagonist, has gone on vacation to the country in an attempt to cure his anxiety. His sister tries to be of assistance by encouraging him to visit some of her friends and acquaintances while he is travelling. When he goes to Mrs. Sappleton's house, her 15-year-old niece explains that the window is open because her aunt has been waiting for her husband and brothers to return after they were killed unexpectedly in a tragic accident 3 years ago. When the men actually return, Nuttel becomes rattled and vacates the premises immediately.

The setting describes the time, place and atmosphere of a story. While this story takes place in the Sappleton residence, Mrs. Sappleton's niece creates a couple of fictional settings that also support the plot. Let's further examine the settings from The Open Window.

Fall in the Country

While the exact location in which this story takes place is not explicitly written into the text, there are several clues that lead the reader to visualize the atmosphere. The story was published in the early 1900s by a Scottish author, which seems to coincide with the notion that Nuttel's escape from the city is to a 'rural retreat' in the United Kingdom. Mrs. Sappleton's mention of the window being kept 'open so late in the year' would indicate that it is autumn in the country. We also can determine that it is late in the day, as the hunters are returning from their trip 'in the deepening twilight.'

Mrs. Sappleton's House

In England at this time, Victorian-style houses were in vogue. These dwellings often featured French windows the size of doors, much like the one Mrs. Sappleton's house had opening up to the lawn. This open window and the half-truth that Mrs. Sappleton's husbands and brothers had not returned from a hunting trip led to the niece's invention of an elaborate lie.

The Fictional Moor and Cemetery

Some of the settings from this story evolve from the elaborate imagination of Mrs. Sappleton's niece. She describes a day three years ago when Mrs. Sappleton's husband and brothers were 'engulfed in a treacherous bog' while crossing the moor. A bog is a swamp, and a moor is a large, grassy, uncultivated piece of land.

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