2 ATM, IV year
The Lumber Room
The text under analysis is written by an outstanding British novelist and short story writer Hector Munro. Hector Hugh Munro (December 18, 1870 – November 13, 1916), better known by the pen name Saki, was a British writer, whose witty and sometimes macabre stories satirized Edwardian society and culture. He is considered a master of the short story and is often compared to O. Henry and Dorothy Parker. His tales feature delicately drawn characters and finely judged narratives. Saki's world contrasts the effete conventions and hypocrisies of Edwardian England with the ruthless but straightforward life-and-death struggles of nature. Nature generally wins in the end.
Owing to the death of his mother and his father's absence abroad he was brought up during his childhood, with his elder brother and sister, by a grandmother and two aunts. It seems probable that their stem and unsympathetic methods account for Munro’s strong dislike of anything that smacks of the conventional and the self-righteous. He satirized things that he hated. Munro was killed on the French front during the first world war.
In her Biography of Saki Munro’s sister writes: “One of Munro’s aunts, Augusta, was a woman of ungovernable temper, of fierce likes and dislikes, imperious, a moral coward, possessing no brains worth speaking of, and a primitive disposition.” Naturally the last person who should have been in charge of children. The character of the aunt in The Lumber-Room is Aunt Augusta to the life.
The story tells about a little orphan Nicholas who was trusted to his tyrannical and dull-witted aunt. One day Nicholas was “in disgrace”, so he duped his Aunt into believing that he was somehow trying to get into the gooseberry garden, but instead had no intention of doing so but did sneak into the Lumber Room. There a tremendous picture of a hunter and a stag opened to him. Soon his aunt tried to look for the boy and slipped into the rain-water tank. She asked Nicholas to fetch her a ladder but the boy pretended not to understand her, he said that she was the Evil One.
The story presents extremely topical subjects. Actually, the whole novel can be divided into two parts: Child’s world and Adult’s world. The author seems to be suggesting that adulthood causes one to lose all sense of fun, imagination. Adults become obsessed with insignificant trivialities, like the Aunt which is obsessed about punishing and nitpicking on the children. Children in Munro’s stories are very imaginative. Nicholas imagines the whole story behind the tapestry while the Aunt comes out with boring stories and ideas like a circus or going to the beach. She tries to convince Nicholas about the fun of a trip to the beach, of circus, but lacks the imagination to sound convincing. She describes the beach outing as beautiful and glorious but cannot say in detail how it will be beautiful or glorious because she is not creative. As for the Lumber room, it is symbolic of fun and imagination of the child’s world which is definitely lacking in the adult world. It emphasizes the destruction of life that adulthood and pride can bring. The Aunt’s world is full of warped priorities. She puts punishment and withholding of enjoyment as more important than getting to know and molding the lives of the children. She keeps all the beautiful and creative things of the house locked away in a lumber-room so as not to spoil them but in doing so, the purpose of the objects which is to beauty the house, is lost, leaving the house dull and colourless.
The excerpt is homogeneous. The story is narrated in the 3rd person. This allows the reader to access the situation and the characters in an unbiased and objective manner. This is especially so because the characters are complex, having both positive and negative viewpoints. The third person point of view is impersonal which fits the impersonal atmosphere of the household.
The text can be divided into several parts:
The exposition, in which we learn about little Nicholas, his cousins and his strict aunt. Nicholas got into his aunt’s disgrace. So his cousins were to be taken to Jagborough sands that afternoon and he was to stay at home. The Aunt was absolutely sure that the boy was determined to get into the gooseberry garden because I have told him he is not to.
The complication, when Nicholas got into an unknown land of lumber-room. Forbidden fruit is sweet and truly the lumber-room is described as a storehouse of unimagined treasure. Every single item brings life and imagination to Nicholas and is symbolic of what the adult of real world lacks. He often pictured to himself what the lumber-room was like, since that was the region that was so carefully sealed from youthful eyes. The tapestry brings to life imagination and fantasy within Nicholas, the interesting pots and candlesticks bring an aesthetic quality, visual beauty which stirs up his creative mind; and lastly a large square book full of coloured pictures of birds. And such birds! They allow Nicholas to learn in a fun and exciting way.
The climax of the text. While the boy was admiring the colouring of a mandarin duck, the voice of his aunt came from the gooseberry garden. She got slipped into the rain-water tank and couldn’t go out. She demanded from the boy to bring her a ladder, but he said her voice didn’t sound like his aunt’s. You may be the Evil One tempting me to be disobedient. Justice must be done. The Aunt tasted the fruit of her own punishment on the children. She is accused of falling from grace, of lying to Nicholas about jam and thus termed the Evil One. She feels what it is like to be condemned.
The denouncement. The Aunt is furious and enforces in the house. She maintained the frozen muteness of one who has suffered undignified and unmerited detention in a rain-water tank for thirty-five minutes. Nicholas was also silent, in the absorption of an enchanting picture of a hunter and a stag.
The plot is ordered chronologically, each episode is given with more and more emphasis. The author’s choice of vocabulary and stylistic devices is admirable. The author uses a large variety of stylistic devices, such as epithets, which can be divided into two categories: those, which are related to Child’s world (grim chuckle, alleged frog, unknown land, stale delight, mere material pleasure, bare and cheerless, thickly growing vegetation) and the one, which depicts a Grown-up’s world lacking any clear thinking (frivolous ground, veriest nonsense, considerable obstinacy, trivial gardening operation, unauthorized intrusion). They help the author to emphasize a deep dissension between generations, to convey a thrilling power of child’s creative mind. There are a lot of metaphors (often sustained) in the story: a circus of unrivalled merit and uncounted elephants (to lay stress on the Aunt’s narrow-mindness), the flawlessness of the reasoning, self-imposed sentry-duty (characterizes the Aunt as a very strict person), art of fitting keys into keyholes and turning locks, region that was so carefully sealed from youthful eyes, many golden minutes of a ridiculously short range. With the help of these stylistic means the offer unfolds a theme in which stupidity, moral degradation, hypocrisy and ambition play their sorry parts.
There are some similes in the text: Bobby won’t enjoy himself much, and he won’t race much either; the aunt-by-assertion (The author uses Nicholas’ own word choice to show that he does not accept his aunt’s authority over him. This also may be a subtle criticism of Nicholas’ rebellious attitude.); and some periphrases: the Evil One, the prisoner in the tank. (These devices provide author’s irony and essential clue to the character).
The author also enriches the story with a device of rhetorical question: But did the huntsman see, what Nicholas saw, that four galloping wolves were coming in his direction through the wood?; and hyperbole: How did she howl. The following stylistic devices contribute to the expressiveness of the text.
There are two traits always present in Hector Munro’s books, which single him out of commonplace writers, they are irony and witty. The style of writing is satirical in a humorous way. The author uses a witty tone to mimic characters in order to subtly criticize them. The criticism is done in a subtle way that is humorous. For example, Aunt's condescending tone in describing Nicholas’ prank: disgrace, sin, fell from grace. The author is obviously using the Aunt’s own word choice to reveal her self-righteous, holier-than-thou attitude. This is a subtle criticism of her arrogance which she is blind to.
The author uses irony to poke fun and criticize the Aunt. For instance, trip to Jagborough which is meant to spite Nicholas fails. Instead of being a punishment for the child, it became a treat for him whereas it became a torture to those who went. The Aunt’s conception of “the paradise”. The real paradise is the Lumber-room not the garden. This reveals the irony that the ideal world of an adult is dull and boring to that of a child.
The story is a remarkable insight into human character. It also reveals Aunt’s virtues and vices. In the story the Aunt is represented as a self-righteous and moralistic person. She uses a hypocritical tone and exaggerates a child’s prank comparing it to a grave sin. She thinks of herself as a wiser - she doesn’t like to be in the wrong. Being cold, lacking of love, she is more concerned with punishing the children: she keeps jam and goodies away from them, she bars them from the beautiful places in the house like the garden and lumber-room. Unable to understand and communicate with children, she is not even aware when her son’s feet was hurt. She dictates their lives for them, insisting on where they should go for entertainment. It is evident, that the author’s sympathy lies with the children.
The ending of the story reveals the author’s social comment about the differences between the world of the child and adult. Though the Aunt is furious, Nicholas is thinking about the hunter tricking the hounds by using the stag as a bait. It is a representative of his own life, he is like a hunter able to escape the hound (which represents his aunt and the dull reality of the adult world) by trickery and strategizing.
To sum up, the author’s style is remarkable for its powerful sweep, brilliant illustrations and deep psychological analysis. The story reveals he author’s great knowledge of man’s inner world. He penetrates into the subtlest windings of the child heart. Giving the author his due for brilliance of style and a pointed ridicule of many social vices, such as snobbishness, pretence, self-interest. The author’s attitude towards grown-ups is a little bit cynical. It’s quite obvious that when describing the hard-heartedness and indifference of Adult’s world he is not indignant but rather amused. His habitual attitude is that of expecting little or nothing of his fellow men. His ironical cynicism combined with a keen wit and power observation affords him effective means of portraying reality without shrinking before its seamy side. The charm of this story lies in its interesting plot and exciting situation. At the same time it conveys deep thought, keen observation and sharpness of characterization. These very qualities assure the author of an outstanding place in the annals of literature and in the hearts of all who love good stories.