It was a hot afternoon, and the railway carriage was correspondingly sultry, and the next stop was at Templecombe, nearly an hour ahead.
The opening line of “The Storyteller” effectively communicates the psychology of the setting. Heat has the power to transform even the most well-behaved of children into little tyrants of discontent and undo the patience of adults with little recourse to putting distance between themselves and tiny tyrants. The situation is immediately conveyed: it’s hot, claustrophobic, and with no relief in sight.
The children moved listlessly towards the aunt's end of the carriage. Evidently her reputation as a story-teller did not rank high in their estimation.
Since the plot and theme of “The Storyteller” turns on the fact that the aunt’s storytelling capability nowhere near equals that of the bachelor, the information conveyed here is of supreme significance.
You don't seem to be a success as a story-teller.
The straightforward quality of this critique provides some insight into the personality of the bachelor. The critique itself also affords yet more evidence of the aunt’s absence of talent as a capable storyteller. From this point forward, debate can commence over the genuine motivation for the bachelor to tell his story: is it merely to entertain the children or is there a more vindictive intent behind showing up the aunt in front of her charges?
…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's tales of infant life.
The aunt is clearly no wordsmith and one can assume that her stories are fairly devoid of whimsical or otherwise creative construction. The positive reaction of the children to such an unusual display of language exploitation strongly indicates the possibility of a lack of artistic appreciation in the family lineage that is not limited merely to the aunt. At the same time, the children’s recognition of the potential for goodness to be described as “horrible” also points to the possibility that these children are gaining access to the reality that the adults in their lives are straining so hard to shield them from.
The aunt suppressed a gasp of admiration.
The aunt’s emotional turmoil here is predicated upon her own failure as a storyteller. The admiration is roused by the bachelor’s improvisational ability to take a challenging question posed by the children and instantly adjust his narrative to fit the query. The suppression of admiration is due to a previous example of the aunt’s inability to make this sort of adjustment herself.
You have undermined the effect of years of careful teaching.
With this admonishment, the divergence between the aunt’s philosophy of morality and the bachelor’s philosophy of morality manifests. The children have just irrefutably demonstrated their preference for the bachelor’s story which contravenes the aunt’s insistence upon telling stories that reinforce her view that virtue is ultimately rewarded. The bachelor’s story is not told with the intent of undermining the aunt’s view that stories told to children should have a moral; rather his story contains a moral which suggests that even the most horribly good children can come to an end every bit as detached from their virtue as the most horribly bad children.
The aunt kept telling the children "Don't" while the children kept asking her questions starting with "Why?"
This quote sets up the antagonism between the aunt and the children early in the story. The aunt tries to prevent the children from acting like children, but fails to do so effectively. Saki focuses on the children's natural curiosity about the world, something which some would see as a positive quality. Both the aunt and the bachelor seem to dislike this quality in them, though they deal with it in different ways.
The younger girl tried to entertain herself and everyone else by starting to recite a poem. She only knew the first line, but she used that as much as possible... The bachelor thought it seemed like someone had bet her she couldn't say that same line two thousand times without stopping. Unfortunately for him, it seemed like she was going to win the bet.
This quote shows Saki's humor, which spills over into the character of the bachelor. This situation is one of timeless humor at the expense of children. However, while the author presents humor about how annoying the children are, he is not as critical of them as of the aunt who cannot control them. This quote also describes a turning point wherein the man on the train decides to intervene.
It's very difficult to tell a story that children will understand and enjoy.
This quote is ironic because it is almost immediately disproved by the bachelor's story. Children, with their natural curiosity, want to hear stories and learn information. However, the aunt reveals that what she really means is that it is hard to tell a story that is appropriate for children, according to her standards.
She did everything she was told to do. She always told the truth and kept her clothes neat and clean. She ate food that was good for her instead of junk food and sweets, got good grades in school, and was polite to everyone.
The bachelor shows his understanding of children in this quote. He describes Bertha as a child who would seem ideal to someone like the aunt on the train. He says these things with a tone of disdain, as if he also believes them to be silly, connecting with the children on their level of understanding.
The Storyteller Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Storyteller is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.