Sredni Vashtar

by Saki

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How does the writer memorably portray the experience of being a child in "Sredni Vashtar"?

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The writer memorably portrays the experience of being a child in Sredni Vashtar by:

1)Using humor.

This is a sad story of one boy's experience living under the guardianship of a cousin who seems oblivious to her charges' needs. Neither Conradin nor Mrs. de Ropp like each other very much. With Conradin being only ten years old, the battle for supremacy often results in lop-sided victories, with the older woman usually gaining the upper hand. However, Conradin's rich imagination has conjured up a private world forbidden to his cousin. Humor is Saki's way of highlighting Conradin's childish attempts at fighting back against the injustices of his life.

The Houdan hen was never drawn into the cult of Sredni Vashtar. Conradin had long ago settled that she was an Anabaptist. (same religion as Mrs. de Ropp)

...from the realm of his imagination she was locked out- an unclean thing which should find no entrance. (Mrs. de Ropp is the 'unclean' thing in Conradin's eyes. Because Conradin 'hated her with a desperate sincerity which he was perfectly able to mask,' Mrs. de Ropp never really finds out what Conradin thinks of her. It becomes Conradin and the reader's private joke).

2)Highlighting the helplessness of a child in ways we can all relate to.

In this story, we are reminded how often children are subject to the whims and decisions of adults. Mrs. de Ropp is controlling, self-righteous, and callous. She sells Conradin's Houdan hen, a creature on which 'the boy lavished an affection that had scarcely another outlet.' In addition, she finds the task of supposedly 'thwarting him for his 'own good'...a duty which she did not find particularly irksome.'

Saki is so skillful at portraying the helplessness of a child in Conradin's circumstances that the shocking ending may even challenge our objectivity about the rightness of Conradin's actions. In essence, Conradin's passive aggressive stance leads to Mrs. de Ropp's death. Although Mrs. de Ropp does not die at Conradin's hands, he fails to warn her about Sredni Vashtar, the large, fierce polecat-ferret.

3)Reminding us that children often process their experiences in unique ways.

Conradin builds a rich, private world where he worships a mighty god who can help him in times of need. This hidden world encapsulates how children maintain autonomy in difficult circumstances. In such a world, the child is either the hero or another being takes on the role of the mighty deliverer. In Conradin's case, Sredni Vashtar is the god who answers his prayers.

The language of worship is used to describe Conradin's adulation of this god who puts great emphasis 'on the fierce, impatient side of things, as opposed to the Woman's religion, which, as far as Conradin could observe, went to great lengths in the contrary direction.' The boy's imaginary world is the only place where he can explore his developing masculinity in relative safety.

Note that he lavishes great affection on the Houdan hen, which he has christened an Anabaptist. All children need affection and the ability to reciprocate such affection. In Conradin's case, the dysfunctional relationship between him and his guardian prevents him from the affectionate discourse which he so desperately needs. To process this void in his life, the Houdan hen (and also Sredni Vashtar) become outlets for Conradin's pent-up, conflicting emotions.

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