Exploring Diegesis through the Hypodiegetic: A Peek into Saki’s Stories

Sujatha Aravindakshan Menon
“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”
– Graham Greene


Narrative has always been a source of perpetual interest and interpretation. Many theories have burgeoned around the concept of the narrative, each significant in its own approach and nomenclature. But, all theories inevitably focus on three aspects – the narrator, the narratee, and the nature of the narrative itself. This paper attempts to analyse the role of the hypodiegetic narrator and his or her role in shaping the nature of the narrative with reference to two short stories of Saki – “The Storyteller” and “The Open Window.” The two stories clearly illustrate how the hypodiegetic or metadiegetic narrators prove to be highly dynamic in their storytelling techniques although they turn to be unreliable narrators with respect to their intentions.

Key words: narrative, Narratology, metadiegetic, diegesis, narrator, unreliable, hypodiegetic

When I first chose Saki’s stories for this research article, the questions that I anticipated from the readers were: “Isn’t Saki a late Victorian short story writer? Why choose Saki when the literary world is teeming with modern and post-modern writers?” Well, the answer is simple. If one were to view literature in terms of a time stream, then one finds the past, present, and the future blending and offering themselves to writers and critics alike. Thanks to literary theory and criticism, old texts are seen in new light sporting different literary and critical apparel. Therefore, the aim of this research article is to analyse the art of diegesis or narrative through the hypodiegetic narrative in two of Saki’s short stories – “The Storyteller” and “The Open Window.”
Plato makes a clear distinction between diegesis and mimesis. According to him, diegesis is the art of narration, which does not involve any sense of acting or dramatisation. Mimesis, on the other hand, involves acting that may or may not be accompanied by music and dance. Narratology, as Tzvetan Todorov named it, is the study of diegesis or narrative. It is one of the main branches of Structuralism in which critics devise ways of analysing works of fiction in a more organised or structured way. At present, Narratology has emerged as a separate branch of literary theory combining some of the best views of literature and linguistics.  
Narratology, like every branch of literary theory, has its own set of terminology. Based on it, one may classify narratives as first person narratives or homodiegetic narratives in which the narrator is one of the characters, third person narratives or heterodiegetic narratives in which the narrator prefers to stay out of the story, and second person narratives where the narratee (the person to whom the story is narrated) happens to be the protagonist of the story.
Narratives, are we all know, are not always isolated. Most of them contain within their framework other major or minor narratives. These narratives that are commonly referred to as ‘the story within the story’ have different names – metadiegetic narratives, hypodiegetic narratives, frame narratives, and embedded narratives.
According to A Dictionary of Narratology, a hypodiegetic or metadiegetic narrative may be defined as “A narrative embedded within another narrative, and more particularly, within the primary narrative...When a metadiegetic narrative functions as a diegetic one (when its metadiegetic status is forgotten as it were), it is said to be a pseudo-diegetic narrative” (Prince 32). The taxonomy adopted here is merely a drop in the ocean. Narratology is a field of literary linguistics whose boundaries seem to expanding by the second. Therefore, the article restricts itself to the nature and scope of the hypodiegetic narrative with specific reference to the two short stories mentioned above.
The two stories, which are part of Saki’s collection of short stories entitled, Beasts and Super-beasts, contain embedded narratives. One of the characters becomes the second narrator and narrates a story to the other character or characters present. We shall analyse “The Storyteller” first and then move on to “The Open Window.”
“The Storyteller” is commonly considered a children’s story. It is highly entertaining and humorous. A closer reading however illustrates a lot more than the folk/fairy tale with all its humour. The story is about an aunt and three children who board a train. In the compartment, they find a bachelor who is headed for Templecombe. The children feel restless and in order to quieten them for the rest of the journey, the aunt narrates a story. But the children disapprove of it and call it the “stupidest story ...ever heard” (Saki 210). The bachelor remarks that the aunt isn’t successful as a storyteller. To this, the aunt confronts him saying it isn’t easy to narrate a story to children. She even challenges him to narrate a story. The bachelor finally succeeds in narrating a story that the children find fascinating though the aunt doesn’t approve of it.
There are two hypodiegetic or metadiegetic narrators in the story – the aunt and the bachelor. The aunt is the first to narrate her story. Her story is shorter in length and is the stereotypical one. The aunt’s role as a narrator is not awarded much significance in the story. The heterodiegetic narrator Saki allots only two paragraphs to the aunt’s story and the response of the audience – the three children, and the bachelor who is an uninvited listener. Why does Saki allow underplay of the aunt as a hypodiegetic narrator? Apparently, there are many reasons to this.
Saki, the master narrator does not approve of the stereotypical stories that are way too didactic and that force children to adopt or imitate those stereotypical roles mentioned therein. Vladimir Propp in his seminal work, Morphology of the Folk Tale discusses twenty-six parts of a fairy tale. Propp clearly states that tales are generally classified into tales with fantastic content, tales of everyday life, and animal tales. The aunt’s story undoubtedly falls under the second category. It deals with a little girl who is very good and friendly. But if one were to analyse the narrative further, it would be better to choose Wundt’s classification.
In his famous work The Psychology of Peoples, Wundt proposes the following division: (1) mythological tale-fables (Mythologische Fabelmarcheri); (2) pure fairy tales (Reine Zaubermiircheri);(3) biological tales and fables (Biologische Mdrchen undFabelri); (4) pure animal fables (Reine Tierfabelri); (5) "genealogical" tales (Abstammungsmarcheri); (6) joke tales and fables (Scherzmdrchen und Scherzfabelri); (7) moral fables (Moralische Fabelri). (Propp 6)
          Wundt’s classification is subject to debate and even Propp and other structuralist critics disapprove of the classification since it doesn’t warrant an overlap that is usually characteristic of folk tales and fairy tales. But, in this context, it would be more appropriate to adopt Wundt’s classification as it is best suited for the analysis of this story. As per this categorisation, one sees that the aunt’s tale easily fits into the moral fable. The moral that the aunt’s tale conveys is that good deeds reap good results. The good result is that the little girl “...was finally saved from a mad bull by a number of rescuers who admired her moral character” (Saki 210).
          The success or failure of a narrative is largely dependent on three main factors – the narrator, the narratee, and the narrative itself. Here, the relationship between the narrator and the narratee is strained mainly due to the nature of the narrative. As mentioned earlier, it is the usual, moralistic, children’s story where the protagonist is the girl. The villain is the mad bull, and the rescuers are the people who love her for her good and friendly nature. Secondly, the narrator must be able to convince the audience about the narrative. In the aunt’s story, the only aim is to enforce discipline through the story. So, there are gaps that remain unfilled and give rise to surprisingly logical questions from one of the children.
“Wouldn’t they have saved her if she hadn’t been good?” demanded the bigger of the small girls. It was exactly the question that the bachelor had wanted to ask.  
“Well, yes,” admitted the aunt lamely, “but I don’t think they would have run quite so fast to her help if they had not liked her so much.” (Saki 210)

In short, the traits of a successful storyteller are found missing in the aunt. This is precisely why she is awarded a minor position so that she would serve as a foil to her hypodiegetic counterpart – the bachelor. Both are under compulsion to narrate a story. But while the former narrates merely to quieten her audience, the latter’s purpose of narration is not merely to quieten but to entertain them as well.
          Almost half of the short story is dominated by the bachelor’s narrative. Saki treats the bachelor as another of his personas who is not merely a hypodiegetic narrator but also an insider in the story – an omniscient narrator who knows everything about every move of his characters. In fact, at a point one is submerged in the bachelor’s pseudo-diegetic narrative that aspires to take the place of the original heterodiegetic narrative.
The bachelor’s story, as per Wundt’s classification, belongs to the sixth category – that of the joke tales and fables. The humour present in the bachelor’s story is more comprehensible to an adult audience and is viewed quite seriously by the children. This contributes more to the humorous effect. For instance, when the bachelor says that the Prince preferred pigs to flowers, and when the children approve of it, the effect is more humorous. Similarly, when Bertha promises her aunt with tears in her eyes that she wouldn’t pluck any of the flowers, but is disappointed on finding no flowers because the pigs have eaten them all, the storyteller’s fine sense of humour is depicted best.
          The framework of the story is akin to any of the popular folk tales. The story starts with the description of the protagonist – yet another good, friendly, punctual and obedient girl called Bertha. The audience’s attention begins to flicker. But the bachelor’s aim is to entertain and not sermonise on good behaviour. So, he decides to cater to the whims of his young audience.

“Was she pretty?” asked the bigger of the small girls.
“Not as pretty as any of you,” said the bachelor, “but she was horribly good.”
There was a wave of reaction in favour of the story; the word horrible in connection with goodness was a novelty that commended itself. It seemed to introduce a ring of truth that was absent from the aunt’ tales of infant life. (Saki 211)
Often, we are told how/what he should be and how/what we should not and we are seldom allowed to accept what we really are. Consequently, we end up developing a sense of aversion for those role models because they don’t let us remain the way we really are. The children do not enjoy the aunt’s story because the little girl’s goodness dominates the story. But, in the bachelor’s story, when good is paired with the word horribly, they are excited because that is what they think of those who claim to be good and obedient. Psychoanalysts would interpret this as the conflict between the id and the ego or the superego.
          In the course of narration, the bachelor leaves out those traces of information that the children have already witnessed. For instance, in the story, the Prince’s park does not contain sheep. This is because the aunt keeps telling the children to look at the sheep in the fields. So, the bachelor substitutes the pigs for the sheep. In contrast to the aunt’s dull narrative, the bachelor’s narrative is fraught with colours – the fishes in the pond of the Prince’s park, the birds in the park, the pigs, the wolf, and Bertha’s pinafore and medals. He also paces his narrative in such a way that the children have adequate time to imagine the scene and the colours mentioned. Further, he has an answer to all the questions raised by the children.
          “Were there any sheep in the park?” demanded Cyril.
          “No,” said the bachelor, “there were no sheep.”
“Why weren’t there any sheep?” came the inevitable question arising out of that answer...
“There were no sheep in the park,” said the bachelor, “because the Prince’s mother had once had a dream that her son would either be killed by a sheep or else by a clock falling on him. For that reason the Prince never kept a sheep in his park or a clock in his palace.”...
“Was the Prince killed by a sheep or by a clock?” asked Cyril. “He is still alive, so we can’t tell whether the dream will come true,” said the bachelor unconcernedly... (Saki 211-212)
The bachelor uses stock characters that usually occur in a fable – the Prince, the number three (the medals), the good girl, and the bad wolf. But, here again, their roles are reversed. Saki does take utmost care to optimise on trebling – the use of the number three. As Propp aptly remarks,
trebling may occur among individual details of an attributive nature (the three heads of a dragon), as well as among individual functions, pairs of functions (pursuit-rescue), groups of functions, and entire moves. Repetition may appear as a uniform distribution (three tasks, three years' service), as an accumulation (the third task is the most difficult, the third battle the worst), or may twice produce negative results before the third, successful outcome. (74)

There are three children in the story. The bachelor describes Bertha as having three medals. The wolf first pursues Bertha who manages to escape, then searches for her among the myrtles, but finally manages to locate her because of the tinkling of her medals. So, after two unsuccessful attempts, the wolf eventually devours her to the last morsel. Only her shoes, bits of clothing, and her medals were left. Even in concluding the story, Saki takes care to focus on trebling. His attempt to imitate the folk tale in this aspect, although in a macabre sense, is indeed remarkable.
Usually, in a folk tale or fable, good are rewarded and the evil are punished. But, here, although the binary opposites Bertha (good girl) and the wolf (bad or wicked) are presented, as they are in fables, here the tables are turned. It is the bad wolf that ultimately triumphs.
          The qualities that the aunt used in her story to save the girl from danger are the very qualities that the bachelor portrays as responsible for Bertha’s death. The wolf spots Bertha because of her sparkling white pinafore. It detects her because of her tinkling medals that she received for obedience, good conduct, and punctuality. Bertha is shown as regretting her good behaviour because that is the root cause of her problems at present. Finally, nothing is left, after the wolf devours her, except her medals, bits of clothing and her shoes.
          The children who have antagonistic views towards role models are glad Bertha is dead while the pigs managed to escape. According to them, the death of the role model of goodness suggests that one is not always rewarded for good deeds and if one stays the way he or she actually is, one can always avoid mishaps in life. While the children are fascinated by the story and laud the bachelor for a wonderful story, the aunt is not at all happy. “A most improper story to tell young children! You have undermined the effect of years of careful teaching” (Saki 213).
The bachelor also admits to himself towards the end of the story that the children are likely to pester her for an “improper story.” In that case, this gives rise to more questions: Is a story’s success determined only by its entertaining quality? Do morals or values have no place in narrative? Perhaps, behind the mask of the bachelor, it is Saki laughing at the so-called rigid morals in society through this story. It is also possible that Saki intended the bachelor’s story to be a metanarrative that illustrates the dos and don’ts of spinning the yarn.
          “The Open Window” is a story that is succinct but which conveys a great deal by the power of its narrative. Here, as in “The Storyteller,” one almost sees Saki allowing his female hypodiegetic narrator in the story Vera to take over completely while he speaks less from the external perspective. The story is centred on three main characters – Vera, Mr. Framton Nuttel, and Mrs. Sappleton. The minor characters are Mr. Sappleton, Mrs. Suppleton’s two brothers, and their spaniel.
          The story deals with Mr. Framton Nuttel who is at the countryside for a nerve cure. His sister sends him letters of introduction to her close friends and hopes that he will feel better on socialising with people. Mr. Sappleton is one of his sister’s friends and Mr. Nuttel pays a visit to her place wondering how this would help his nerves. At the Sappletons’, he is received by their niece Vera, “a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen” (Saki 164).
          Vera makes it a point to find out whether Mr. Nuttel has been to the countryside before and whether he knew the Sappletons well. Mr. Nuttel affirms that he knows nothing about the place. Vera then says that Mrs. Sappleton had a tragedy three years ago. Her husband and her two brothers went out to shoot snipe exactly on the very day three years ago and never returned. They, along with their spaniel, were engulfed in the bog. But Mrs. Sappleton always thinks that they will return some day. That is why the window is left open for them to come through it.
          Vera’s talk is interrupted by her aunt who greets Mr. Nuttel and affirms that she has left the French window open so that her husband and brothers can come through it. She doesn’t want them to use the door as they will come all muddy after hunting and spoil the carpet. Mr. Nuttel wonders how a woman can still cherish hopes of dead people returning to her house. In order to socialise, he tries to talk about his illness to Mrs. Sappleton but she seems nonchalant about the topic.
          Suddenly, Mrs. Sappleton gets excited and says that they have arrived. Mr. Nuttel is terrified and looks at Vera’s face to see if there is any hope of understanding. But, Vera’s face registers absolute shock and horror. Then Mr. Nuttel sees three men arriving with a spaniel and when one of them sings the way Vera had narrated, he takes to his heels never to return again.
          When Mr. Sappleton asks his wife who it was, she calmly replies that it was a visitor who seemed to talk only about this illness and who left as if he had seen a ghost. Vera intervenes and says that he was afraid of dogs. He had told her that he was once chased by a pack of dogs near the Ganges and he had to take refuge in a newly dug grave with the creatures grinning above him. The story ends with the statement that Vera was good at cooking up stories.
          Vera as a narrator displays skills way above her age. Her sense of imagination is amazing. Before she begins her art of spinning tales, she makes sure that Mr. Nuttel is a complete stranger to the place and knows nothing about it. Then she starts off by dropping the word “tragedy” and adding the element of suspense to it by making a statement about the open French window.
          When Mr. Nuttel guesses that the window is kept open probably due to the warm weather, Vera begins her tale. She says that her aunt’s husband and two brothers went out hunting and never returned. “In crossing the moor to their favourite snipe-shooting ground they were all three engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. It had been that dreadful wet summer, you know, and places that were safe in other years gave way suddenly without warning” (Saki 165).
          Vera not only chooses the right words to set the mood of her tale. She also resorts to apt kinesics. Her voice and her expressions are key assets in her art of storytelling. “...the child’s voice lost its self-possessed note and became falteringly human...She broke off with a little shudder” (Saki 165).
Finally, when the three men and the spaniel do return after hunting, all dirty and muddied, it is Vera’s expression that lends authenticity to the whole narrative. Her power of storytelling is such that Mr. Nuttel reposes total faith in her words and thinks that Mrs. Sappleton is labouring under strange imagination. “Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the niece with a look intended to convey sympathetic comprehension. The child was staring out through the open window with dazed horror in her eyes” (Saki 166).
           It is this final expression of Vera that leads to the climax – Mr. Nuttel’s hurried retreat from the house. When Mr. Sappleton questions his wife about the man, Vera sets the Gothic mood for yet another tale. She describes how Mr. Nuttel was chased by a pack of dogs. So, he “...had to spend the night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to make anyone lose their nerve’” (Saki 166).
          Like in the case of “The Storyteller,” “The Open Window” is a story where the hypodiegetic narrator dominates the narrative. Vera, who is described at the outset as a young lady of fifteen, and later on as a child, is able to hoodwink an adult by her art of narrative. There is a dichotomy in these two stories between the characters as social beings, and the characters as narrators or storytellers.
          As social beings bound by ethics and moral conventions in society, the bachelor and Vera seem to lack a sense of empathy.  As far as the bachelor is concerned, he no doubt enjoys narrating a tale but his ulterior motive is to outwit the aunt and succeed in entertaining the children. In doing so, he does not fail to twist his story in such a way that it sounds macabre even to an adult.
The children, being of tender minds, are unable to perceive things that way. All they see is that their sworn enemy, the good and obedient child, the yardstick against whom they are often measured, is dead and gone. They are no longer afraid of the wolf. In fact, they admire the brown mud-coloured wolf with his black tongue and are happy he devoured Bertha. Besides, the bachelor himself agrees that the story was an improper one. So, he senses a feeling of perverted pleasure when he thinks of how the children will pester the aunt for the next six months for an improper story.
          Vera shares this perversion even at a tender age of fifteen. In spite of Mr. Nuttel’s statements about his health and his poor nerves, she continues to create an uncanny feeling in the atmosphere by her body language and her facial expressions. It is with the same sense of perverted glee that she goes on to narrate another of her stories successfully. The bachelor is not found planning his moves in the narrative. It is more a spontaneous spurt of ideas. On the other hand, Vera plans every one of her moves perfectly by ferreting information about Mr. Nuttel before cooking up a story. Her second story however is more spontaneous than the first. Her stories are also eerie and macabre in that they try to instil fear or a sense of mysterious uncertainty in the listeners.       
          This brings us back to the question raised earlier in the article: What constitutes a good storyteller? Is it merely the art of narrative or the message that the stories intend to convey? Obviously both matter to the audience. In such cases, are the two hypodiegetic narrators found wanting in values? The answer to this can never be in the affirmative because beneath their masks is H. H. Munro whom the literary world calls Saki. The reason for Saki’s grim or rather perverted humour can be related to the grimness of society at that time. His collection Beasts and Super-Beasts was published in 1914, when World War I had begun. With death and destruction raging around, it is hardly surprising that his works convey a sense of acrimony and caustic humour.
          Another way of interpreting this would be to examine the difference between the reliable and the unreliable narrator. According to Wayne Booth, unreliable narratives are “...stories narrated, whether in the first or third person, by a profoundly confused, basically self-deceived, or even wrongheaded or vicious reflector” (The Rhetoric of Fiction 340). This concept was later developed by James Phelan in his book Living to Tell About It.
I identify six kinds of unreliability: misreporting, misreading, misevaluating—or what I will call misregarding—and underreporting, underreading, and underregarding. Misreporting involves unreliability at least on the axis of characters, facts, and events. I say "at least" here because misreporting is typically a consequence of the narrator's lack of knowledge or mistaken values, and, consequently, it almost always occurs with misreading or misevaluating. (51)

In the two stories, it is obvious that the narrators (if one were to go by Booth’s or Phelan’s views) are unreliable. The bachelor and Vera indulge in misreporting. The aim of the bachelor in doing so is twofold. He wishes to prove the aunt wrong and thereby challenges her so-called storytelling technique by narrating a story that caters to the children’s interest. The second reason is to keep the children quiet for the rest of the train journey without making too much noise or disturbing him. In misreporting, the bachelor clearly displays a certain laxity in terms of values. The omniscient narrator Saki proves this right when the bachelor, at the end of the story, admits that the children, in future, will pester their aunt for an improper story.
Vera’s misreading and disregarding of human nature and weakness is the main reason behind her misreporting. She understands from Mr. Nuttel’s words that he doesn’t know anything about the place or its people. She infers that he is there for treatment for his nerves. In spite of knowing his problem, she indulges in a misreported narration that frightens Mr. Nuttel all the more thereby weakening his nerves further. One sees a certain disregard for human nature in Vera. She disregards others’ feelings and the effect of her ‘gripping and seemingly real’ narratives on them. Her only aim is to have fun at others’ expense. But the author Saki exposes her towards the end saying she had the habit of cooking up narratives.
          Dan Shen in the living handbook of Narratology aptly remarks, “In terms of the narrator’s unreliable reporting of story elements, it is truly a clash that occurs between story and discourse; but as regards the narrator’s mis- or underinterpretation and evaluation of events and characters, it is rather between the narrator’s explicit discourse and the author’s implicit discourse that the clash can be found” (Par. 7)
          So, the dichotomy between values and ethics in a narrative, and the entertaining or fascinating characteristic of a narrative, is mainly due to the conflict between the two approaches to narrative. Paul Cobley in his book Narrative discusses two approaches to narrative – the ontogenetic and the phylogenetic approach.
The first approach, looking for the origins of narrative in psychological or biological constituents of humans, provides an ontogenetic perspective on narrative. The second, relying on evidence of developments from the diversity of humans’ cultural heritage, is known as a phylogenetic approach. Occasionally, ontogeny and phylogeny can be seen to overlap... (Cobley 22)
          The aunt, in “The Storyteller,” represents the phylogenetic perspective. She is particular that her story contains all those morals and ethics that are essential for character development. The bachelor, on the other hand, represents the ontogenetic perspective. His narrative is born out of a psychological impulse to narrate better. In doing so, he reverses the traditional folk tale and brings it closer to real life where good is not always rewarded.
          While the bachelor remains incognito throughout the story, here, the storyteller has a name that belies her disposition. The name Vera means faith or truth. But that is far from what she actually indulges in. Vera’s skills as a narrator are primarily ontogenetic. But, unlike the bachelor, who can paint the fishes, birds, the pigs, and the wolf in different colours merely to please his young audience, she has to narrate more realistically in order to lend credibility to her narrative. Therefore, the reader sees a blend of the ontogenetic and the phylogenetic approach in her narrative.
          In Vera’s narrative, one sees her geographical competence for she knows the English weather and the English countryside. She is aware of the dangerous quagmires that can sink anyone into oblivion in no time. She optimises on these geographical aspects in her narrative. This, combined with her non-verbal skills, creates the desired effect in Mr. Nuttel.
          As in the case of “The Storyteller,” this story also has another narrator who is delegated a very minor status like the aunt – Mrs. Sappleton. What she tells Mr. Nuttel about her husband and brothers can also be termed a narrative. Her statements about hunting and about the availability of duck in winter are deemed horrible by Mr. Nuttel in contrast to Vera’s narrative, which he finds “very interesting” (Saki 165). In other words, the words of the “child” Vera have more gripping impact than the words of a mature, rational adult like Mrs. Sappleton.
          Vera’s second narrative on Mr. Nuttel shows her absolute confidence in her audience’s gullibility. She is unaware that in India, near the Ganges, bodies are mostly burnt after death and not buried. But her spontaneity and pert response lend support to her narrative. Here, the ontogenetic perspective is predominant. So that once again brings us back to the question regarding the need for values.
          The answer lies with the omniscient heterodiegetic narrator Saki. His concluding lines in the two short stories justify the phylogenetic stand that he ultimately takes though he allows his characters to act as they wish. “Romance at short notice was her speciality” (Saki 166) clearly indicates that Vera has something of the histrionic in her. She is either a victim of a personality disorder that makes her tell lies or is a mischief-maker who doesn’t realize that she is in the wrong. In short, Saki justifies Vera’s nature by placing her in the abnormal or uncommon category.
          As far as the bachelor is concerned, his interior monologue at the end of the story is nothing but Saki’s own phylogenetic perspective surfacing through the mask. “...for the next six months or so those children will assail her in public with demands for an improper story!” (Saki 213) It is undoubtedly Saki’s confession that the story is not appropriate in terms of values.
          Since the very term narratology was coined by Todorov, it would be worthwhile to consider his analysis of narrative. In The Poetics of Prose Todorov rightly states,
An ‘ideal’ narrative begins with a stable situation which is disturbed by some power or force. There results a state of disequilibrium; by the action of a force directed in the opposite direction, the equilibrium is re-established; the second equilibrium is similar to the first, but the two are never identical. (213)
          The two stories bear testimony to Todorov’s views. “The Storyteller” begins with the aunt, and the three children who are on board a train. The story ends with the aunt and the three children on the train. The children are seen as being excited even towards the end of the story. But that excitement is due to the effect of the bachelor’s story. The bachelor’s reflection that the children will pester the aunt for an improper story shows that the so-called equilibrium that prevailed hitherto has been disrupted. The children will no longer be content with traditional stories as they used to do.
          In the case of “The Open Window,” Vera’s narrative distorts the equilibrium and the quiet at home and sends Mr. Nuttel running for his dear life. She then narrates another gruesome tale to the Sappletons and Mrs. Sappleton’s brothers about Mr. Nuttel thereby explaining the reason for his ‘strange behaviour.’ The whole affair is dismissed eventually, as it seems, and everything is as before. But, after knowing Vera’s nature, one can hardly assume that everything will be as before.
          It is a fact that “All the world loves a story and wants to know how it ends. Before they know where they are, they have learnt a lot of things besides” (Garvie 25).  Saki’s hypodiegetic narrators do teach readers how to narrate a story while also hinting at the fact that it should be ‘proper’ and not at the expense of one’s nerves.


Booth, Wayne. The Rhetoric of Fiction. The University of Chicago Press, 1983.
Cobley, Paul. Narrative. Routledge, 2001.
Garvie, Edie. Story as Vehicle. Multilingual Matters Ltd., 1990.
Phelan, James. Living to Tell about It. Cornell UP, 2005.
Prince, Gerald. A Dictionary of Narratology.  University of Nebraska Press, 1967.

Propp, Vladimir. The Morphology of the Folk Tale. 20th edition. University of Texas Press, 2009.
Saki. Complete Short Stories. Indialog Publications Pvt. Ltd. 2002.
Shen, Dan. “Unreliability”.  the living handbook of narratology. Ed. Hühn, Peter et al.
Hamburg: Hamburg University Press. Web. 09 Jun 2012.
Todorov, Tzvetan. “The Poetics of Prose.” The Novel: An Anthology of Criticism and
Theory. Ed. Dorothy J. Hale. Blackwell Publishing, 2006. 205-218.


  1. An article on Narratology with a beautiful example of the study of Saki's "The Open Window".
    Dr. S. Joseph Arul Jayraj
    Associate Professor of English & Head
    St. Joseph's College (Autonomous)
    Tiruchirappalli-620002, Tamil Nadu, India.


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