The Interlopers | Study Guide


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The Interlopers | Plot Summary & Analysis

See Plot Diagram


A Bitter Feud

One night, probably in the early 20th century, Ulrich von Gradwitz stands in the forest somewhere in the eastern Carpathian Mountains with his rifle. These woods are full of game, but Ulrich waits for "a human enemy." This enemy is Georg Znaeym, a neighbor with whom Ulrich's family has had a decades-long territorial dispute over "a narrow strip of precipitous woodland." Though Ulrich's grandfather had won the piece of land in court, Georg's grandfather had never accepted its loss. The feud has continued, and Ulrich has inherited his family's hatred of his neighbors.

Suspecting that Georg has poaching plans, Ulrich has gathered his foresters "to keep a look-out for the prowling thieves." The game are unusually restless on this night, and Ulrich believes this restlessness is due to the presence of Georg. Ulrich strays from his men, hoping to run into Georg alone, which he does as he rounds "the trunk of a huge beech." The men stare hatefully at each other, but they hesitate long enough that the beech tree falls and pins them down "in a tight tangle of forked branches."

Stuck Together

Ulrich and Georg lie on the forest floor, unable to move thanks to "a deed of nature's own violence." Ulrich can move only one arm, as his other arm and his legs are trapped. He realizes he will need help from his men to escape. Georg's predicament is slightly worse, as he is also blinded by trickling blood. Ulrich emits noises of both relief and exasperation, which causes Georg to give "a short, snarling laugh." Georg remarks that it is "real justice" that his enemy is "snared in his stolen forest." Ulrich answers that the land is his, and it is Georg who does not belong there. Ulrich insinuates that when his foresters come, Georg will regret trespassing. Georg takes the argument up a notch, threatening to kill Ulrich if his own men arrive first. In this case, Georg offers to send "condolences to (Ulrich's) family." Ulrich regrets to inform Georg that poachers do not get condolences. They both swear to "fight this quarrel out to the death ... with no cursed interlopers." Each knows his men may not arrive first, and who will survive is "a bare matter of chance."

Opportunity for Peace

Resigned that he will have to wait, whether to be freed or be killed, Ulrich focuses his attention on getting a drink of wine from the flask in his pocket. The wine seems like "a Heaven-sent draught," and as the liquid warms him, he feels "something like a throb of pity" for his enemy. Ulrich offers the wine to Georg, who refuses, saying, "I don't drink wine with an enemy." Ulrich thinks things over, and he realizes his "old fierce hatred seemed to be dying down." If his men come first, Ulrich says, he will order them to free Georg as if he were a valued guest. Ulrich admits to being a fool for fighting over a "stupid strip of forest." He then offers friendship to Georg if they can "bury the old quarrel."

After a long pause, Georg accepts Ulrich's offer. He also invites him to his house and promises to stop poaching. Georg declares that they can make peace themselves with no interference or "interlopers from outside." He has been disarmed by Ulrich's offer of wine, and he agrees to be Ulrich's friend. Each man prays that he will be first to get the opportunity to be gracious and act like a friend to the other.

Help Cannot Come Soon Enough

The howling wind stops long enough that the two men decide to call for help. They are aware that their voices cannot carry far in the dense forest, but they hope their men will hear them. Finally, Ulrich sees some "figures coming through the wood." The men begin to shout in earnest, and Ulrich reports that the figures are running quickly in their direction. Georg asks how many there are, and when Ulrich counts "nine or ten," Georg is disappointed that these cannot be his men because his men number only seven. However, Ulrich soon realizes the figures are not his men either; they are wolves.


Violence Breeds Violence

Their grandfathers originated a feud that has spanned generations, causing Ulrich and Georg to hate each other from an early age. In fact, Ulrich and Georg have grown so bitter and obsessed with the land dispute that they "each prayed that misfortune might fall on the other." The narrator suggests the feud might have "died down" if it were not for the "personal ill-will of the two men," and this ill will seems to come solely from the "long series of poaching affrays and similar scandals" that have occurred over the years. Each man has been born into a legacy of violence and is motivated to continue the violence based on personal pride and a misguided belief in his own moral superiority. Each is convinced he is justified in his violence because his family has been affronted by the dishonorable behavior of his neighbor.

As evidenced by the men's later reconciliation, the men had the chance earlier to temper the feud but have chosen not to until confronted with the stark reality of violence's brutal consequences. The beech tree acts as a powerful symbol of how violence entraps its participants. The storm that fells the tree is both literal and metaphorical, and its results represent the kind of divine justice Georg alludes to after the men are caught beneath the tree. Given the bleak ending, Saki seems to suggest that once violence is set in motion on a large scale, it is often out of the hands of the individual players to stop it. In a moment of clarity, Ulrich regrets his participation in the petty feud "over this stupid strip of forest." He adds, "We've been rather fools; there are better things in life than getting the better of a boundary dispute."

Man's Limited Power

Saki uses the pathetic fallacy when he sets the men's confrontation during a violently stormy night that mirrors the thoughts of violence within the men's minds. The men carry rifles, a physical symbol both of the violence in their hearts and of their arrogant belief in their own power. Ultimately, however, both meet grisly ends, defeated by the stronger power of nature. This shocking turn of events underscores man's limited power in the grand scheme of the universe.

The violence of nature is foreshadowed early on, with the roebuck "running like driven things" and "unrest among the creatures." Ulrich senses this "disturbing element," but he mistakes it for Georg, still unaware that nature is a far more dangerous and less forgiving enemy than his fellow man. Ulrich's prevailing wish is to meet Georg "man to man, with none to witness," so that he might take him out, a violent thought indeed. Once they are trapped together, both men voice their violent impulses, threatening to kill the other should their men arrive first. "Death and damnation to you," says Georg, and Ulrich replies, "the same to you." And although the men decide to reconcile shortly after, the curse has been set in motion. Wolves serve as the emissaries of nature that carry out the final violence.

Identity of the Interlopers

Both Georg and Ulrich identify the other as an interloper on the disputed property. Each believes that the other is the one who does not belong. They also refer to anyone who might get between them exacting revenge on the other as an interloper in their personal business. This sets up the expectation with the reader that the central conflict of the story is man versus man. The surprise ending reveals that the central conflict is instead man versus nature.

The word interlopers is used on two separate occasions in the text. The first comes when Georg wishes "death and damnation" upon Ulrich. "We fight this quarrel out to the death," Georg says, "with no cursed interlopers to come between us." In this usage of the word, Georg seems to refer to the court officials who sided with Ulrich's family back in the days of their grandfathers. It is obvious that Georg believes the courts had no business meddling in the dispute, and he refuses to accept their judgment. This refusal brings to mind man's general disdain of authority figures when they do not agree with one's own personal ideology. But since Georg cannot punish the interloping court, his vendetta is focused on Ulrich, a more personal target. He wishes divine punishment upon this interloper, which does indeed happen—just not in the way Georg expects. Ironically, in this instance, nature acts as their definition of an interloper because it comes between them before they can engage in a shootout with their rifles.

The second usage of the word interlopers in the text comes when Georg accepts Ulrich's offer of friendship. "If we choose to make peace," Georg declares, "there is none other to interfere, no interlopers from outside." In this statement, Georg both reaffirms his disavowal of the court's authority and insinuates that the call for peace is his choice, and his choice alone. Georg's pride has given him a false sense of his own power. Because Ulrich shares this same pride and false sense of power, he can then contemplate "the wonderful changes that this dramatic reconciliation would bring about." The two share a moment of peace and satisfaction before the reality of their limited power shows itself with the arrival of the wolves. By giving the newfound friends such a hideous death, Saki seems to propose that both men were interlopers, claiming ownership over natural elements that cannot be controlled. This is also the second case of nature acting as their definition of an interloper. Nature is in fact an outside source that prevents their peace from being instituted among their families.

Chance for Redemption

Both Georg and Ulrich enter the woods on this night with violence in mind. When they come face-to-face, civility saves them from shooting each other outright. Nature intervenes, pinning them to the ground and giving them a chance to truly reconcile. While ensnared in the branches of the beech tree, each man has to come to terms with his mortality. Each knows it is "a bare matter of chance" whose men might arrive first, deciding which man is saved and which man is killed.

Given this time for contemplation, Ulrich produces a wine flask from his pocket and drinks. The wine is presented as a "heaven-sent draught," signaling its religious symbolism. In the Christian tradition, wine represents the blood of Jesus and bestows divine grace and forgiveness of sins. Once Ulrich warms from the wine, he begins to experience a change of heart. His bitter hate toward his enemy is replaced with pity and compassion, prompting Ulrich to offer the wine to Georg. This peace offering, along with Ulrich's offer of friendship, disarms Georg enough that he accepts, and the two reconcile their differences. The two are able to forgive each other. Although this forgiveness is not powerful enough to save their mortal lives, it has arguably redeemed them on a spiritual level.

The Interlopers Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Ulrich waits in the forest for his enemy Georg.

Rising Action

2 Ulrich comes face-to-face with Georg.

3 A tree falls on the two men, pinning them down.

4 Ulrich and Georg threaten each other.

5 Georg refuses Ulrich's offer of wine.

6 Ulrich tells Georg that they have both been fools.


7 The enemies decide to reconcile.

Falling Action

8 The men rejoice to see figures coming toward them.


9 Ulrich realizes it is a pack of wolves.

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