Characterization of the Aunt in The Lumber Room


The Aunt is the antagonist in the short story The Lumber Room by Hector Hugh Munro. (Saki) She is categorized under the category of “the older and wiser and better people” by Nicholas, the protagonist in the story. Much criticism is aimed by the author at the Aunt’s conventional upbringing methods and her inability in child-rearing. Throughout the story, the reader is exposed to her negative characteristics

You can read the character of Nicholas here.



The Aunt’s self-righteousness is characterized by the idea that one should be totally well nurtured. It was her habit, whenever one of the children fell from grace, to improvise something of a festival nature from which the offender would be rigorously debarred; if all the children sinned collectively they were suddenly informed of a circus in a neighboring town, a circus of unrivalled merit and uncounted elephants, to which, but for their depravity, they would have been taken that very day.

She always considers her actions as correct and punishment is deserved by every child for misbehavior. She has a punishment for every childish ‘depravity’ whether individual or collective.

She feels that it is correct to keep beautiful things under lock and key. ‘A teapot fashioned like a china duck, out of whose open beak the tea was supposed to come’ was in the lumber room while the children were given the ‘dull and shapeless’ nursery teapot.



She is didactic and tries to ‘teach proper or moral behavior in a way that is annoying or unwanted. Religion as represented in the short story consists of sinning by the children and the ‘Evil One’ tempting them to be disobedient. The word Devil (the supreme spirit of evil) is in the vocabulary of Nicholas. Thus to teach proper behavior the Aunt uses religion in an unwanted manner.



The Aunt is a 'woman of few ideas' though she thinks that she is wiser. Her weaknesses are indirectly conveyed to the reader through her of behavior and thoughts. The most pleasurable outings for the children she devises consist of an expedition to the seaside or circus in a neighboring town. These planned outings are so boring to Nicholas. His resourceful mind finds alternative ways of enjoying himself. She spent a long time in the gooseberry garden doing ‘trivial gardening operations’. It took the whole period Nicholas spent in the lumber room for her to grow suspicious about his disappearance. Throughout that period, she imagined that he was still trying to get in to the gooseberry garden.

For her ‘wholesome’ food for breakfast is the unappetizing ‘bread-and-milk’. We can infer that bread-and-milk has been served continuously at breakfast as Nicholas rebels against the loathsome food by putting a frog in it. Within the limited scope of the Aunt’s mind she could only picture the whitish, gooey, tasteless bread-and-milk as ‘wholesome’. In contrast the author shows us what the children like: strawberry jam which is bright red, delicious and nutrious.

The lack of imagination in her resulted in failing to understand not only the psychological needs of children but also their behavior.


Punishes through withholding enjoyment

Instead of giving love to Nicholas the Aunt took every opportunity to punish him. The other children too did not escape punishment. Her readiness to punish through withholding enjoyment turns her into an infuriating grown-up even in the eyes of the reader. For example, after withholding the enjoyment of going on the expedition she punishes Nicholas further for being bold enough to point out that the other children would not enjoy the outing. Assuming that Nicholas would try to spend his time in the gooseberry garden she tries to withhold his enjoyment and commands Nicholas in an arrogant manner as seen in the following line.

"You are not to go into the gooseberry garden" "Because you are in disgrace," said the aunt loftily.

But Nicholas artfully turns this punishment into a far better form of enjoyment in the lumber-room. The Aunt’s form of punishment can be so petty as to deprive the children from having strawberry jam when there were four jars of it in the store cupboard.

These oppressive punishments are meant to make the children feel sorry for their childish pranks. She especially targets Nicholas as he seems to be the naughtiest and wants him to repent his ‘sins’. But throughout the short story we do not see him regretting his actions which are often planned to provoke the aunt. Thus what the readers witness is that the Aunt’s methods of making Nicholas stop his pranks and disobedience through fear of punishment is useless and impractical. Nicholas artfully turns punishment into enjoyment.


Pretentious and obsessed with punishment

Though the Aunt tries to instill moral values she is portrayed as a person who is devious. Though she considers herself and pretends to be a ‘better’ person she lies. While in the gooseberry garden she states ‘I can see you all the time’ and Nicholas smiles as he is in the lumber-room. Thus not only does she lie, her lies are found out though her stupidity.

Her dishonesty is seen when she denies having strawberry jam in the store cupboard which is pointed out by Nicholas. Thus her lack of moral values in the form of deceit is proved by Nicholas.

Revenge is a negative characteristic we discover in the Aunt. She is obsessed with punishment. Her revengeful nature is conveyed when she is exposed as a liar. Her dishonesty too is shown again as she had decided not to give strawberry jam for tea when she tells Nicholas that they will get it.

As she represents the older generation the author seems to convey that the moral pretentiousness in the Aunt could be extended as a characteristic of a majority in the adult world.

You can read the post: Don’t be too smart with kids in TheLumber Room by Saki here.

The Aunt in the story is said to be a reflection of the character of one of the aunts of Saki. In his childhood he is said to be brought up under strict control by his aunts. His intention of writing the short story may be to criticize the way the children are brought up by adults in the world of adults.

Special thank should go to the original writers, who provided resources to write this post. Share the post if you find it useful to others.


Source: Dr. Rohini Chandrica Widyalankara (International Journal of Scientific and Research Publications, Volume 5, Issue 9, September 2015)


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