illustration of a wolf standing in the forest looking toward a fallen tree that has pinned a man underneath

The Interlopers

by Saki

Start Free Trial

How does Saki develop the themes of friendship and revenge in "The Interlopers"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"The Interlopers" is a story that begins with enmity, transitions toward reconciliation, and transitions again with its ending, in which both characters are left helpless against forces entirely outside of their control.

Saki's story begins with an image of Ulrich von Gradwitz hunting in the forest—not for animal game, but rather for a human opponent. From this first paragraph, Saki then proceeds to detail the backstory of the two families and the boundary dispute that is the source of the hostility between Ulrich and his adversary, Georg Znaeym.

The story changes abruptly, however, after the two come face to face. (Keep in mind, the sheer depth of their mutual hatred for one another.) Saki writes, "each had a rifle in his hand, each had hate in his heart and murder uppermost in his mind." However, the scene takes an abrupt when one of the trees collapses down on them, leaving both men trapped and vulnerable.

As the two men are trapped, gradually their attitude shifts. Initially, each man swears to kill the other, should his men find them first. But being trapped in this helpless situation cools that hostility. Ulrich is the first to reach out an olive branch—offering Georg some of his wine—and then, after Georg refuses the offer, he declares that he has changed his mind on his earlier vow: should his men find them first, he would have them both be rescued. He asks that they end their hostility and become friends, and Georg accepts this offer. Out of their shared plight, the two enemies are reconciled and become friends.

That being said, however, even if they are resolved to become friendly with one another, they remain trapped and helpless. This brings about the ending—where both men are shouting for help in order to be rescued, only to watch as wolves approach.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The feud between the families of the von Gradwitzes and Znaeyms began with a lawsuit in the days of the grandfathers of Ulrich and Georg, but the animosity and ill will between the two young men is exacerbated by Ulrich von Gradwitz's strong hatred for Georg Znaeym. It is only an act of Nature that brings them together.

Because of this ill will, Ulrich goes into the forest where there is "a disturbing element," and he comes face-to-face with his enemy. A force of nature brings a huge beech tree's limbs down upon them, leaving the two men pinioned beneath it. At first, they curse each other and boast that each one's men will arrive before the other's and revenge will be served. As they wait to be rescued and their discomfort increases, Ulrich reconsiders his feelings. The wine in his flask is warming, so he offers it in a gesture of friendship to the other man, Georg Znaeym: "Let us drink, even if tonight one of us dies." At first, Georg rejects this offer from an enemy." As they lie in pain, though, the two men reconsider what is important in life. Ulrich says to Georg,

I've come to think we've been rather fools; there are better things in life than getting the better of a boundary dispute. Neighbor, if you will help me to bury the old quarrel, I—I will ask you to be my friend.

After some thought, Georg speaks in reconciliation,

What peace there would be among the forester folk if we ended our feud tonight. . . Ulrich von Gradwitz, I will be your friend.

Then, in a gesture of true friendship, each man offers to have his men help the other if they arrive first.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The conversion from vengeful enemies to gracious compadres in Saki's "The Interlopers" seems to develop quickly and before the reader's eyes, as the narrator describes the characters' reasonings for this change. In the beginning, Ulrich is angrily stalking his sworn enemy, Georg, for allegedly poaching on his land. However, the feud between their families had been ongoing for three generations, and so their hate seems to be inherited instead of springing from personal interactions between them.

When Ulrich and Georg finally meet up, they simultaneously fall victim to the same predicament—getting stuck under a fallen tree. At first, they compete over whose men will get there first to kill the other. However, soon their shared suffering breeds understanding between them. After drinking some wine, Ulrich finds clarity and is able to feel empathy for Georg and his suffering. He realizes that they have been fighting over things that don't matter:

"We have quarrelled like devils all our lives over this stupid strip of forest, where the trees can’t even stand upright in a breath of wind. Lying here to- night thinking I’ve come to think we’ve been rather fools; there are better things in life than getting the better of a boundary dispute."

This first attempt to make peace changes Georg's heart as well, who dreams about what it would be like if two enemies were seen together as friends and the positive effect it would have on the rest of the town. They then join forces and start yelling for help together, knowing that no matter whose men show up, they will both be saved. Although the ending has an ironic twist, it has a strong moral of men becoming friends in times of shared hardship or suffering, when they are able to relate to each other.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Saki provides several details that mark the transformation of the men from revenge-seeking enemies to peace-seeking friends. The first detail can be identified in Ulrich's feeling of pity for Georg that inspires him to make a sudden offer of wine to his enemy. Though Georg responds badly to Ulrich's attempt at peace, the narrator of the story reports that Ulrich's animosity begins to ease. The second detail that marks the transformation is Ulrich's speech to Georg, which ends with his offer of friendship and Georg's ensuing silence; these quiet moments are full of tension as the reader waits to see how Georg will react to Ulrich. His acceptance of the gesture of friendship and his acknowledgement of the wine are gracious. The third detail that confirms the transformation is the silent prayer both men make, as described by the narrator, each wishing to be the first to demonstrate their new friendship with action, action that can be witnessed and reported later to others.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial