The main type of irony H.H. Munro, also known by his pseudonym as “Saki,” employed in his short story The Interlopers is situational. In fact, situational irony is present throughout this story of two men, bitter enemies, who find themselves victim of the very natural phenomenon over which they had fought and who ultimately succumb to forces very different from those which they had anticipated. Ulrich von Gradwitz is legal owner to a stretch of forest that his rich in game. Georg Znaeym is now patriarch of a neighboring clan that continues to claim rightful ownership of the land in question despite judicial determinations in Ulrich’s favor. The hatred that these two men have for each is legend, as George will later note when suggesting the irony of these two men walking side-by-side into town following their shared ordeal: “’How the whole region would stare and gabble if we rode into the marketsquare together.”
The first, and main example of situational irony is suggested in the story’s opening passage, in which the reader is introduced to Ulrich, who is patrolling the disputed land in question in search, not of game, but of his human prey, Georg. Munro has emphasized the bountiful animal resources this land possesses, and that hunting game would be the natural order of things. The feud between families, however, has transformed the nature of Ulrich’s hunt from one for food to one for revenge.
Another element of situational irony exists in the fact of these two men’s demise occurring by virtue of the very land that is at the center of their dispute. Both men treasure the stretch of forest. As Munro’s unseen narrator points out early in the story:
“The forest lands of Gradwitz were of wide extent and well stocked with game; the narrow strip of precipitous woodland that lay on its outskirt was not remarkable for the game it harboured or the shooting it afforded, but it was the most jealously guarded of all its owner’s territorial possessions.”
Yet, it would be the natural growth of this forest, and the equally natural phenomenon of a violent storm, that would spell their demise. When fierce winds blow a tree down onto both men, there is an element of God-given justice to go with the situation’s irony. Both men, and their respective families and employees, covet this land, and both act as self-righteous, violent antagonists toward each other. That they should both be felled by the same tree, then, constitutes a sort of irony and a measure of divine intervention.
Another example of situational irony is the evolving relationship between Ulrich and Georg that occurs while both men remain trapped under the aforementioned tree. Two individuals determined, out of a visceral mutual hatred, to murder each other are suddenly reflective of the idiocy of their situation and develop a common rapport that transitions into genuine friendship. When The Interlopers begins, the reader can only presume that the antagonism between the two men will end with one’s murder of the other. As they lay trapped under the tree, both wounded, Georg blinded by the blood caked onto his eyes, first Ulrich and then Georg discover the underlying humanity in each other. As Georg reconsiders his feelings towards Ulrich, spawned initially by the latter’s offer of wine from his flask, he now sees that the feud that has driven their relationship has been misplaced:
“I never thought to have wanted to do other than hate you all my life, but I think I have changed my mind about things too, this last half-hour. And you offered me your wineflask … Ulrich von Gradwitz, I will be your friend.”
The irony in these men’s transition from murderous intent to friendship is profound, as is the final element of situational irony present in The Interlopers: the resolution of their ordeal. As noted, the reader can be forgiven for assuming that Munro’s story would end with the murder of one by the other, or, even by a sequence of events that results in their both being shot by each other, or by their respective allies, references to whom are frequent. The story, though, ends with Ulrich’s observation that the beings hurrying in their direction are the allies of neither man, but are wolves, the obvious intent of which would be their slow, painful deaths at the mouths of these ravenous creatures. This outcome represents the ultimate irony in Munro’s narrative. Readers have had no reason to anticipate this development, but there it is—an outcome at variance with that which was anticipated.