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The Interlopers

by Saki
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What is the cause of the feud between the families of Ulrich von Gladwitz and George Znaeym?

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The feud is caused by an old land dispute between the Gradwitz and Znaeym families.

As the other educator pointed out, the feud is inherited by the succeeding generations of both families. The land in dispute is only a "narrow strip of precipitous woodland" on the outskirts of the Gradwitz property. It is not particularly "remarkable for the game it harbored or the shooting it afforded." However, the feud continues because of entrenched feelings of ill will between both families.

While Ulrich believes that the disputed land belongs to his family, Georg is of the opinion that his family's claims have been unjustly ignored. In Ulrich's eyes, the court rightly sided with his family against the machinations of "petty landowners." However, Georg rejects Ulrich's perspective, and this is why he continues to encroach on Gradwitz land. Each makes it his life duty to kill the other. The feud is sustained by strong emotions and petty jealousies. 

Every day, Ulrich and his team of men search the woods for "prowling thieves." Despite his conscientious reconnaissance work, Ulrich only comes upon Georg once: during a tempestuous, stormy night. The chance meeting is almost surreal; neither man can believe the object of his consuming hatred finally stands before him. Interestingly, neither man immediately acts upon his murderous intentions. It is impossible to ignore the "code of a restraining civilization" even in the moment of great provocation. 

This hesitation seals the fate of both men. An enormous tree crashes, pinning Ulrich and Georg under its formidable branches. In the end, both men discover that an inherited feud is meaningless in the face of a possibly violent death.

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Like many others, the feud between Ulrich von Gladwitz and Georg Znaeym has been inherited from ancestors, and the lines of demarcation are so ambiguous that there is no resolution to this generations' argument over a tract of land. Here is how the narrator describes this feud as Gradwitz patrols the dark forest:

A famous law suit, in the days of his grandfather, had wrested it from the illegal possession of a neighbouring family of petty landowners; the dispossessed party had never acquiesced in the judgment of the Courts, and a long series of poaching affrays and similar scandals had embittered the relationships between the families for three generations.

In other words, Gradwitz's grandfather had gone to court to "wrest" this land away from Znaeym's grandfather; however, the Znaeyms did not acknowledge the ruling of the court. So, now each family insists that the land is theirs, and they continue to hunt upon it. Resentment between the two parties waxes and the hatred becomes personal between Gradwitz and Znaeym so that the feud is aggrandized. This is why Gradwitz hopes one night that he can singularly come upon his enemy and kill him. But, just as comes around a tree, he comes vis-à-vis with Znaeym. Fatefully, however, in that "long silent moment" in which two civilized men cannot just shoot down someone down, a great tree splits in the storm and branches crash upon them. And, while they are thus pinioned beneath the tree and wait for their men to rescue them, it is only then that they put this feud into true perspective. 

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Despite a court ruling, the Znaeyms have never accepted the judgment that a particular strip of forestland is no longer theirs, and is, instead, the property of the von Gradwitz family.

The feud that has locked the families of von Gradwitz and Znaeym for generations began over a particular strip of woodland belonging to the von Gradwitz family that was wrested from the unlawful possession of the Znaeym family in a famous lawsuit. However, the Znaeym family has never relented in their claim that the land belongs to them. As a result, the von Gradwitz family has continued to vehemently accuse their foes of poaching on their woodland. In fact, these quarrels have embittered the two families for three generations. Now, with Ulrich von Gradwitz as the head of his family, the quarrels have become extremely personal between him and his boyhood enemy Georg Znaeym, whom he views as "a tireless game snatcher and raider of the disputed border forest." Certainly, the vitriolic hatred between these two men has perpetuated the feud.

...as boys they had thirsted for one another's blood, as men each prayed that misfortune might fall on the other....

Therefore, each night that the wildlife might be moving about, von Gradwitz and his men patrol this famous strip of woodland in the hopes of ensnaring the poachers.

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The answer to this question can be found in the second paragraph of “The Interlopers.”  The feud between the Gradwitz and the Znaeym families started when there was a lawsuit between the two families in the time of the grandfathers of the two men who will figure prominently in this story.

The beginning of the story tells us that the Gradwitz family has a large amount of land that is very good for hunting.  However, on the night that the story takes place, Ulrich von Gradwitz is out patrolling a bit of land on the very edge of his property.  This piece of land is not really all that valuable for hunting, but he still values it above any other because of its role in this feud.

The narrator tells us that

A famous law suit, in the days of his grandfather, had wrested it from the illegal possession of a neighbouring family of petty landowners…

This family was the Znaeym family.  After the law suit, they did not accept the judgement and continued to believe that the land was theirs.  Over the years, there were many “poaching affrays and similar scandals” that had made the families hate one another even more.  This shows us that the feud in this story started out because of a law suit that had occurred in the time of Ulrich von Gradwitz’s grandfather.

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