The Lumber Room – Model Answer


Write an analysis of the aunt’s character in the Lumber Room, discussing her contribution to the central theme of the short story.

The Lumber Room, written by Hector Hugh Munroe who is popularly known by his alias Saki, is a story which exposes the failure of adults to understand the world and the mind of the child. Written in 1890’s, critics say that the story reflects some of the harsh experiences that the author faced himself at the hands of his strict aunt. In this essay I will explore how the Aunt is characterized as a foil to Nicholas and how she reflects the adults who strive to discipline children through fear, consequentially suppressing their creativity.

The author portrays the aunt as malicious and vindictive. She derives pleasure out of the misery of the children. This sadistic pleasure is evident through her peculiar punitive choices which are administered with the purpose of willing the children into submission. She organizes an expedition for the other children with the sole purpose being to punish Nicholas. The irony is that the expedition is not planned for the other children to enjoy. She is manipulative and tries to impose humiliation and terror instead of joy and friendship.

A few decent tears were looked for on the part of Nicholas when the moment for the departure of the expedition arrived.

It is not good values or sound character that she wants to instill in Nicholas, but a fear that forces him to submit to her authority. The rebellious and frivolous disposition displayed by Nicholas threatens the power that the aunt wields. This makes her restless and she subjects Nicholas to even more intense maltreatment.

The aunt shows no love or kindness toward the children. In fact, she is rather hostile and domineering, depriving the children of childhood delights such as strawberry jam. Nicholas mentions that there were four jars of strawberry jam in the cupboard and the aunt, who is in a tricky position because of Nicholas’ shrewdness, does not refute the statement because that would’ve proven that she lied to the children. She denies them such things even when there’s plenty of supplies. It is evident that this is not a disciplinary act, but more of a cold-hearted and insensitive decision which shows a hidden animosity towards the children.

Moreover, while she is prompt to organize ‘punitive expeditions’ to manipulate a child’s feelings, she fails to observe or listen to their grievances. Bobby, according to Nicholas, has told her twice that his boots are too tight but she does not even remember this. It is obvious to the imaginative reader that going on an expedition with tight boots that cut into your feet is not enjoyable.

You often don’t listen when we tell you important things.

The aunt’s mind is set on antagonizing and terrorizing the children to such an extent that she forgets and fails to attend to their day to day needs. This lack of communication is typical of authoritarian parenting where the parent-figure wields authority and arbitrarily sets rules without any explanations. The children are treated as lacking intellectual skills and their voices are not given any importance.

The aunt is unimaginative and denies creative freedom to the children. Rather than fostering the creative imagination of the children under her care, she removes all such opportunities. This may reflect how adults tend to drill discipline into children rather than allowing them to embrace and express their uniqueness and creativity. Even the food the aunt serves them is dull and lacks diversity and creativity: bread-and-milk. While Nicholas is rummaging through the treasures in the lumber room, he comes across a teapot which is moulded in the shape of a china-duck. The snout of the teapot is made out to be the beak of the duck. Nicholas is fascinated by this imaginative piece of kitchenware, and compares it to the boring and dull tea pot they use in the nursery.

She was a woman of few ideas, with immense powers of concentration.

The aunt occupies herself with ‘self-imposed sentry duty’ in order to find fault with Nicholas. This shows how narrow-minded and unimaginative she is. Even her punishments are just walks on the beach or a missed carnival which shows a lack of creativity. When she falls into the water tank, Nicholas outwits her and silences her, even daring to call her the Evil One. When Nicholas comes across the tapestry he sees a ‘living, breathing story.’ He perceives aunt’s house to be ‘bare and cheerless,’ and is drawn towards the lumber room which is full of wonderful colours and many creative antiques. The older generation, represented by the aunt, often fails to understand the need for creativity in the child’s world.

As opposed to the ‘childish discernment’ displayed by Nicholas, the aunt is described by the narrator as ‘older, wiser and better.’ However, the reader comes to realize that this is a sarcastic comment which is subverted in the story. A prevailing myth is that adults are by default wiser and more mature than children. The author challenges this idea through the character of the aunt which comes off as petty and childish, but also lacking in their creativity, empathy and imagination.

It is evident in light of the above essay that the author uses the aunt to represent certain adults who fail to imagine the child’s world and so treat them as hostile creatures. The adults seek to limit the child’s creativity to impose a warped sense of discipline in them which doesn’t give prominence to values and character, but instead glorifies blind obedience and submission. In the process of doing so, they stifle the wholesome growth of children. The author brilliantly portrays how one child manages to elude the heavy hand of the adult but also reminds the reader that his escape will not last long as the aunt is still in control over them.

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