“The Weapon” by Frederic Brown and “The Open Window” by Saki
In “The Weapon” by Frederic Brown, the setting, which includes Harry, catalyzes Graham’s Man Vs. Man and Man Vs. Self conflicts and sharpens their characterizations as scientist and skeptic, respectively, in order to develop the ironic theme that men apply different sets of rules to their public and personal lives. The most immediate cause for the prickly relationship between Graham and Niemand is Niemand’s intrusion into Graham’s home when “the room [is] quiet in the dimness of early evening.” Though Graham at first feels that “almost any interruption to his thoughts [is] welcome,” he soon realizes that “he should have asked the man’s business before admitting him” and spends the rest of the story trying to force Niemand’s departure; Niemand ultimately excuses himself.
Harry is a person, but he is as much a permanent part of the house as the lampshades and a static character used as a prop, and thus I consider him part of the setting. Though Niemand’s affection for the boy brings some peace between the men, Harry also becomes a catalyst for their conflict. When Graham pulls Harry away from Niemand, Graham shows that he doesn’t trust the visitor, and when Niemand leaves a gun in Harry’s hands, he shows that he doesn’t trust Graham. This final act also defines the Man Vs. Self conflict within Graham: though Niemand can see that Graham is not treating his science and his child-rearing the same way, the doctor himself cannot: “only a madman would give a loaded revolver to an idiot.”
Graham’s treatment of his son is central to his characterization as a well-meaning but hypocritical man, and so is the use of light in the story’s exposition. Graham’s pondering in the dark symbolizes his shortsightedness of his work; though he turns on the light when Niemand arrives, he still has not reached enlightenment. Graham is much more careful with his child than he is with his work, as are all men.
“The Open Window” by Saki uses setting as a catalyst for the Man Vs. Man and Man Vs. Self conflicts and the characterizations of Nuttel as a bumbling oaf and Vera as a sly fox. Framton’s position as a stranger in an isolated community immediately puts him in a position of weakness; therefore, he places complete trust in Vera, the first person he meets. Vera uses a tragic story about the window and marshes to exploit Framton’s unfamiliarity with the setting to win the Man Vs. Man conflict with him, and this intensifies Framton’s Man Vs. Self conflict between himself and his fear. Framton’s, Vera’s, and Mrs. Sappleton’s different reactions to the locale define their characters. Framton’s terror reveals his cowardice and naivete; he has total faith in Vera but does not trust his own sister: “privately he doubted more than ever whether these formal visits on a succession of total strangers would do much toward helping the nerve cure which he was supposed to be undergoing.” Vera’s deft use of the window, bog, and spaniel reveal her cunning: “Romance at short notice was her specialty.” Mrs. Sappleton’s complete comfort with her surroundings accent that she is an honest and straightforward person and a foil to Framton and Vera.