Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Although Saki’s design is clearly to draw as much suspense and surprise into as narrow a compass as possible, the story itself nevertheless presents abstract themes of justice in the human world and of the human relationship to the natural world.
The most obvious of these themes involves the dissection and final denial of the vendetta mentality that motivates these two figures. The early history of the conflict shows how accidental the hatred between these two men actually is. They inherit a conflict that is not rightly theirs, and it distorts their relationship not only to each other but also—as the reference to the surprise in the marketplace shows—to the community in which they live. Furthermore, the parties of huntsmen and retainers (who never actually appear in the story) represent further ramifications of injustice, wherein the dependents are also caught up in the hatred between the principals, much as the Montagues and Capulets are trapped in the conflict that leads to the death of Romeo and Juliet. The physical blow that levels both men thus paradoxically symbolizes the sudden consciousness of the distortions that the vendetta has caused: Their common plight makes Ulrich and Georg recognize, apparently for the first time, how much they have in common, and thus how much more reasonable friendship would be. Having once seen the world from this new perspective, the two are quick to correct the fundamental distortion of their relationship, and...
(The entire section is 517 words.)
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Ulrich and Georg are enemies who have brought a family feud over a piece of forestland to a murderous point. Since the original court settlement, which ostensibly ended the dispute, members of both families have participated in "poaching affrays and similar scandals.’’ Instead of dissipating over the years, the feud has strengthened throughout the lifetime of Ulrich and Georg, two generations removed from the original disputants. Saki does not reveal why the enmity has strengthened, merely alluding to the ‘‘personal ill-will’’ that exists between the men.
The hatred that each man feels for the other represents larger instances of animosity. At the time that Saki wrote the story, he was serving as a soldier in World War I, a conflict that developed out of inherited ethnic conflicts surrounding land claims that were unable to be satisfied by arbitrary judicial decisions. The drive of European nations to possess territory and build empires, and the desire of the ethnic nationals in Austria-Hungary to assert their independence helped fuel tensions that erupted in global conflict. Much like Ulrich and Georg, the opposing sides in World War I carried generation-old dislikes to murderous proportions with a willingness to use violence to achieve their goals.
The uneasy relationship between Ulrich and Georg has repercussions within the community. Ulrich is the leading member of an important,...
(The entire section is 568 words.)