The Interlopers | Study Guide

Saki

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The Interlopers | Themes

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Violence

Ulrich and Georg's hatred for each other is fueled by a history of violence. Bitterness has been simmering for decades, ever since the court ruled in favor of Ulrich's grandfather in a land dispute. This bitterness has been exacerbated by "poaching affrays and similar scandals," and their two families do not seem to be on speaking terms. On this fateful night, Ulrich patrols "his" land looking for an opportunity to defeat his enemy. Carrying a rifle that signals his willingness to use extreme violence in the name of "justice," Ulrich breaks away from his foresters so that there will be no witnesses to his intended violence and no one to interfere with his plans. Georg must have similar reasons to distance himself from his own foresters, as Ulrich encounters his enemy alone.

When they meet face-to-face, "each [has] hate in his heart and murder uppermost in his mind." Their violent thoughts are mirrored by the violence of the setting and the storm. Although it is an opportunity to vent their anger that both men have awaited for a long time, once it comes they find themselves unable to act on their violent impulses. They are still rational and civilized enough to know that "to shoot down his neighbor in cold blood" is morally reprehensible. Even though they end up not acting on their violent thoughts, nature does not show the same restraint in withholding its own violence. The beech tree falls, and its branches entrap the men. With this event and the grisly ending, Saki points out how violence often takes a life of its own and becomes bigger than its initial origins. At this stage, it is often too late for individuals to escape without consequences. Ulrich and Georg's terrible lesson becomes a parable for the reader, aptly demonstrating the dangers of embracing violence.

The story can also be read as a commentary on the futility of human violence. The long-standing family feud takes on a life of its own, and Ulrich and Georg live out a hatred that is not theirs to begin with. When Ulrich says, "We've been rather fools; there are better things in life than getting the better of a boundary dispute," Saki condemns violence.

Forgiveness

A land feud has made enemies of Ulrich and Georg and their families for three generations, and forgiveness is the only thing that might bring peace. However, forgiveness does not seem to be anywhere on either man's radar at the outset of the story. The reader is given a sense that the two men have never come together to talk out their differences, and have instead simply acted and reacted out of bitterness and spite. It takes something as drastic as being pinned under a tree together to get these men to engage in dialogue.

Their conversation starts out as one might expect, full of accusations and disrespect. Each believes he holds the moral high ground and speaks out of pride and arrogance. They mock and threaten each other with the impending vengeance of their foresters. Soon enough, however, they see that their struggle is in vain. They cannot free themselves from the branches that hold them down, much in the same way that they cannot free themselves of the feud without cooperation and humility.

Ulrich is moved toward a change of heart thanks to the "heaven-sent draught" of wine. Once he is able to take a drink from the flask he has with him, Ulrich's hatred fades, and feelings of pity and compassion emerge. The wine symbolizes divine grace and forgiveness of sins, and Ulrich's offer to share with Georg signals his willingness to broker peace with his enemy. Although Georg resists at first, he is quickly disarmed by Ulrich's act of compassion and hospitality. Their reconciliation demonstrates the power of forgiveness to quell conflict and bring about positive change. Although this forgiveness comes too late to save the men's mortal lives, it has allowed them to redeem themselves on a spiritual level.

Man versus Nature

Saki deftly employs misdirection at the start of his story to convince the reader that the central conflict is man versus man, when in reality, the central conflict is man versus nature. Both Ulrich and Georg consider the other man an interloper on the disputed narrow stretch of border land between their properties. Ulrich's forest lands are "of wide extent and well stocked with game." He does not necessarily need this "strip of precipitous woodland," yet he "jealously" guards it to the point that it becomes a life obsession. Georg has never accepted the court's judgment that this land belongs to Ulrich and considers it "stolen" from his family. Georg believes that the court and anyone who tries to enforce its decision are interlopers as well. But as Saki demonstrates, nature cannot truly belong to humans, which makes both men interlopers in a place they do not belong.

The Carpathian Mountains are a wild natural setting, dense with trees and dangerous animals. Saki hints at the foolishness of the men being out on such a night. A "storm-wind" causes game such as roebuck to run "like driven things" and move restlessly. Ulrich senses a "disturbing element in the forest" this night, but he vastly overestimates his own power and underestimates the power of nature. This miscalculation turns out to be a deadly mistake. Ulrich feels invincible, and his rifle is a symbol of his belief in his own power and his desire for human violence. But then nature strikes, either by sheer coincidence or divine intervention, and a beech tree falls and pins both Ulrich and his enemy Georg beneath it. After the men argue and escalate their personal conflict, they dimly begin to become aware that nature is their true foe in this situation. Neither can free himself without help, and help is not guaranteed. Their compromised situation leads them to resolve their man-versus-man conflict and turn their attention to their man-versus-nature conflict. Unfortunately, by this point it is too late, and soon enough the two are presumably dispatched by a pack of wolves. Saki contrasts the "code of a restraining civilization" that eventually leads the men to be able to reconcile with the utter indifference of nature. While men have the power to bargain with each other, they have no power to bargain with nature. Nature shows no restraint or pity in demonstrating man's limited power. Saki highlights this beastly indifference by personifying nature and having it physically attack the men, first via the storm and second via the wolves.

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