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," what is surprising and ironic about the ending? What did you expect to happen and what actually happened? What type of irony is this?

Expert Answers

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

What is unexpected and ironic about the ending is that the men are fighting each other, but they both end up fighting wolves.  This is situational irony.

The Interlopers” is a fable about two men who are battling with each other.  Ulrich von Gradwitz and Georg Znaeym are neighbors who are feuding because of some long-standing conflict between their families over a land dispute.  One night they are both roaming the forest hoping to “run into” the other accidentally so they can shoot him.  They run into each other all right. 

When the wind blows a tree down, Georg gets trapped under the tree, which Ulrich thinks is funny. 

“So you’re not killed, as you ought to be, but you’re caught, anyway,” he cried, “caught fast. Ho, what a jest, Ulrich von Gradwitz snared in his stolen forest. There’s real justice for you!”

Unfortunately, Georg is not the only one trapped under the tree.  Ulrich is too!  He is being rather short-sided about the whole thing, actually.  So the two men share insults for a while, not really trying to get out.  They are more concerned about hating each other than about trying to get out.  There is really nothing they can do.  Each man is so full of righteous indignation, vindicated by the fact that he is right, and the other is wrong, that they do not realize that there is someone coming.  Then they think they are being rescued, and each thinks it is his own men.  They each think they are the ones in the right.  It turns out to be wolves.

The irony, of course, is that if they had worked together, they probably could have lifted the log off together, since they were both trapped under it.  They could have freed themselves and left, and fought off the wolves together.  Instead, they died—together.

There are three types of irony.  These are verbal irony, situational irony, and dramatic irony.  This is situational irony, which means that the event is the opposite of what you thought would happen (probably that one would kill the other).  Dramatic irony is when the reader knows something the characters don’t, and verbal irony is when there is some wordplay (like jumbo shrimp).  The fact that what you expected to happen, that the men would kill each other, was the opposite of what actually happened, that wolves killed them, makes it dramatic irony.

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

The ironic reversal for which the reader is unprepared in "The Interlopers" is the appearance of the wolves, an occurrence which neither Georg and Ulrich have anticipated. The reader expects one of the two parties of men to arrive and rescue at least one of the foes.

When the two foes are pinioned beneath the large branches of the old beech tree, each man threatens the other with the arrival of his men, who will help him but punish the other. Ulrich tells Georg, 

“When my men come to release us, you will wish, perhaps, that you were in a better plight than caught poaching on a neighbor’s land, shame on you.”

And Georg threatens Ulrich,

When they drag me out from under these branches, it won’t need much clumsiness on their part to roll this mass of trunk right over on the top of you. 

However, as the two enemies must remain trapped together, Ulrich begins to consider the peril in which they lie, and he decides to end their feud because it seems rather foolish to him now. After giving Ulrich's offer some thought, Georg agrees, and they share the warming wine from Ulrich's flask. Now,

...each prayed a private prayer that his men might be the first to arrive, so that he might be the first to show honorable attention to the enemy that had become a friend.

At this point, then, the reader anticipates the arrival of one of the rescue parties and the shock of these men when they find their master in such a perilous state. The reader is utterly surprised by this new amity of von Gradwitz and Znaeym, who have so quickly reconciled. It is with even greater surprise, then, to the reader that wolves comprise the surprise ending.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on