How is the ferret in "Sredni Vashtar" linked to death?

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reidalot eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the short story "Sredni Vashtar" by H.H. Munro (Saki), the ferret is not only linked to death but also it is worshiped as a god by Conradin, the sickly ten-year-old boy, and is responsible for both of them being free at the end of the tale.

It is clear from the onset of the story that the ferret is dangerous because Conradin is scared of the "sharp-fanged beast." However, through his imagination, the creature becomes a weapon against The Woman, Mrs. De Ropp, his domineering cousin and guardian.

Conradin worships the ferret, Sredni Vastar, with celebratory festivals. When Mrs. De Ropp has a toothache, Conradin tries to convince himself it is because of the ferret. This incident foreshadows Mrs. De Ropp's death and the believed power of Sredni Vashtar, the god.

The ferret is quite literally linked to death through Conradin's chant after Mrs. De Ropp enters the shed:
"Sredni Vashtar went forth,
His thoughts were red thoughts and his teeth were white.
His enemies called for peace, but he brought them death.
Sredni Vashtar the Beautiful" (para 15).
Through Mrs. De Ropp's death, Sredni Vashtar actually frees Conradin from his prison-like existence, and both the boy and the polecat-ferret are freed from their respective confinements. Conradin enjoys his buttered toast, and Sredni Vashtar walks freely across the bridge and into the bushes.
teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The ferret is linked to death for its part in the killing of Mrs. De Ropp, Conradin's guardian.

In the story, the ferret is a symbol of autonomy and dominance. It isn't interested in being thwarted for its own good nor is it engrossed with the prospect of bowing to the whims of a mercurial (temperamental) guardian. Conradin "worships" the ferret, because its very fierceness and independence encapsulates everything he wants to be.

When Mrs. De Ropp threatens to dethrone his god, Conradin prays to Sredni Vashtar for deliverance. In his hymn of deliverance, he besieges the ferret to proudly bring death to those of his enemies who call for peace. Thus, this improvised hymn foreshadows the ferret as a figure of death. So it is that when Mrs. De Ropp enters the domain of the ferret god (the shed), she is never seen alive again. The ferret emerges with "dark wet stains around the fur of its jaws and throat"; as an avenger of the oppressed, Sredni Vashtar is the harbinger of death.