Having held grudges against each other over land ownership through two generations, the Gradwitzes and the Znaeyms have longstanding animosities. But, when a life-and-death crisis holds them hostage one evening in the controversial woods, they reconsider the value of their hatred, and Ulrich von Gradwitz offers his neighbor friendship.
Having come around the trunk of a huge beech tree as he seeks his enemy, Ulrich comes face-to-face with his mortal enemy, Georg Znaeym. However, their civilized natures cause them to hesitate momentarily from firing their rifles, and in that split second, the mammoth tree is struck by lightning and crashes to the ground. Now, the enemies find themselves "pinned beneath the fallen mass."
It is at this point that the two men ponder their existential positions. Faced with the possibility of dying alongside his enemy, Ulrich perceives his hatred in relation to the dire conditions in which he now exists. "...Ulrich was feeling the old fierce hatred...dying down." He speaks to Znaeym, calling him "neighbor." Ulrich explains that he has changed his mind and feels that it has been ridiculous to have had a feud over "this stupid strip of forest." Therefore, he asks Georg to help him bury their feud, and he asks Znaeym, "I--I will ask you to be my friend."
Silent for a time, Georg Znaeym considers the proposal of friendship from Ulrich von Gradwitz. Then, he agrees, wryly remarking on how the whole region "would stare and gabble" if they ride into the market square together. Finally, he says, "Ulrich von Gradwitz, I will be your friend."
Clearly, faced with imminent death, the two foes reassess what should be valued and what should not: life being the most important thing, and secondly the value of friendship. Grudges are negative factors and, so are worthless; they should be discarded. These reasons are why the two men end their feud.