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

In "The Interlopers," how does the natural setting, particularly the fallen tree, affect Ulrich and Georg?

The natural setting is the primary antagonist of "The Interlopers" and completely undermines Ulrich and Georg's goals and intentions. The fallen beech tree prevents each man from taking revenge, and nature is portrayed as an indifferent, malicious force, which is unconcerned with the plans of both men. The wolves also function as an element of the natural world and act as interlopers in the men's lives. They too are indifferent to Ulrich and Georg's ultimate designs.

Expert Answers

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

In "The Interlopers," the natural setting is everything because the entire conflict upon which the story is built is based on the rightful ownership of a feud between the von Gradwitz and Znaeym families.

The feud between the two families had been going on for generations, and it is therefore only natural that Ulrich and Georg hate each other. Hoping that the feud could end in a one-on-one altercation on the stormy night in question, von Gradwitz breaks away from the group he has come out with. As he had hoped, he soon comes across Znaeym, who is also alone.

Before either man can get the gumption to shoot, lightning strikes the tree above them and it falls, pinning both men to the ground. The fallen tree therefore plays a significant role in the story, because if it had not fallen, the conflict between the two men would have had an entirely different outcome.

As things stand, however, both are trapped and completely unable to move. Neither is seriously injured, and the two continue to bicker, both trying to convince the other that their party will be the first to arrive on the scene and rescue them.

As time goes on, however, being trapped under the fallen tree allows the men a chance to put their differences behind them, and they wind up becoming friends.

While the story does not have a happy ending, the natural setting and the fallen tree allow two lifelong enemies to set aside their differences.

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

Each of the men feels that he has the right to claim this narrow strip of forested land in the Carpathian Mountains. Their families have long feuded over the woodland area, and even the courts have been brought into the feud. In short, both society at large—represented by the courts—and Ulrich and Georg, specifically, seem to believe that human beings can own land: that the trees, the grass, and the animals among them can actually belong to and be possessed by human beings.

The wildness, harshness, and arbitrariness of the things that take place in this natural setting, however, would seem to indicate that humans have no more power to own the forest than they can own the sun. When humans own something, they feel that they can control it, and the fallen tree and wolf pack, in particular, make it very clear that humans cannot control nature. Ulrich and Georg have spent so long fighting over who owns the land that they have completely neglected to understand that no one can really own nature at all. Nature is a force so much larger than human beings, and they are all but powerless against it.

The men cannot stop the tree that falls on them; though they had developed an absolutely fictitious sense of control over nature, they cannot stop the wolves which have come to feed.

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

The natural setting of the short story "The Interlopers" takes place on a narrow stretch of precipitous woodland in the unforgiving Carpathian Mountains, which is a disputed piece of territory between the feuding Gradwitz and Znaeym families. On a "wind-scourged winter night," Ulrich von Gradwitz patrols the dark forest searching for his enemy, Georg Znaeym. The restless wind and stormy atmosphere portray the natural setting as threatening, ominous, and dangerous. When the two enemies finally come face-to-face, the narrator mentions,

And before the moment of hesitation had given way to action, a deed of Nature’s own violence overwhelmed them both (Saki, 2).

The storm causes a massive beech tree to fall on both men before Ulrich or Georg have the opportunity to harm each other. The fallen beech tree completely interrupts Ulrich and Georg's conflict and intervenes in their dispute. The moment the beech tree falls on the men, the primary conflict of the story shifts to a man versus nature conflict. By personifying nature, Saki illustrates that the natural environment is the primary antagonist of the story. The fallen beech tree prevents each man from taking revenge, which influences them to sympathize with each other later in the story.

As the men lay incapacitated underneath the beech tree, Ulrich and Georg eventually put aside their differences, forgive each other, and end their longstanding feud. Shortly after making amends, shadowy figures spot them from an overlooking hillside, which turn out to be a pack of hungry wolves. The wolves are the true interlopers and part of the natural environment. Similar to the beech tree, the wolves threaten to undermine and destroy the lofty goals of Ulrich and Georg. In the story, the natural setting acts as an indifferent, malicious force, which completely interrupts the men's lives and undermines their goals.

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

The setting plays a key role in this story. The feud between the two families is over a narrow piece of land. So, part of the setting itself is the subject of the feud. This is a piece of land that Georg's and Ulrich's families have fought over for generations.

It is cold (winter) and the land is located in the Carpathian Mountains. This harsh outdoor setting suggests that nature is unforgiving and/or indifferent to man/men and their concerns. This is a symbolic foreshadowing because the conflict will shift from "man vs. man" to "men vs. nature." 

When lightning strikes and the tree falls, pinning the men, it would seem that nature has fortuitously intervened and prevented one man from killing the other. However, this is just a random act of nature. There is no suggestion that this was divine intervention nor is there any hint that nature is acting in some benevolent way to transform this feud into a reconciliation. 

In the cold, gloomy forest, with the wind tearing in fitful gusts through the naked branches and whistling round the tree trunks, they lay and waited for the help that would now bring release and succor to both parties. 

Now that the men have become friends, the narrator once again focuses on how potentially dangerous nature is. In the end, the men are once again subject to the dangers of nature when they are spotted by the wolves. Prior to this reconciliation, the men mostly had to fear one another. Following their truce, nature becomes their primary enemy and concern. 

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 Team