Sredni Vashtar

by Saki

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How does Saki's "Sredni Vashtar" address the theme of neglect? 

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The short story "Sredni Vashtar" by Saki begins with a doctor's opinion that Conradin, a ten-year-old boy, will live for less than five more years. His cousin and guardian, Mrs. De Ropp, agrees with this opinion. Normally, a family member would manifest a lot of sympathy and love toward a young boy who may soon die, but Mrs. De Ropp does not do this. The story tells us:

Mrs. De Ropp would never, in her honestest moments, have confessed to herself that she disliked Conradin, though she might have been dimly aware that thwarting him "for his good" was a duty which she did not find particularly irksome.

In a subtle way, this sentence explains her attitude concerning her neglect of Conradin despite his pitiful condition. She does not admit even to herself that she doesn't like him, but she vaguely realizes that she finds at least a little pleasure in "thwarting him." In other words, she enjoys denying him things that would give him satisfaction and happiness.

The theme of neglect is most apparent in Conradin's obvious loneliness. What he needs more than anything is companionship and love. In the absence of this, the "spur of loneliness" causes him to use his imagination to create a "haven" in the woodshed and "a god and a religion" of a pet ferret. His cousin's neglect of him is mainly responsible for Conradin's "worship of the hutch-god." If she had been more attentive and less neglectful, he would not have had to resort to such fantasies.

Mrs. De Ropp not only causes his extreme loneliness by neglecting him, but she also adds to it by depriving him of anything he enjoys. First she gets rid of a hen he had befriended, and then she tries to dispose of the ferret. The implication at the end of the story is that the ferret instead attacks and kills her before he escapes, as if in retribution for the neglect that Conradin has suffered.

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