In Saki's short story "The Interlopers," why does Ulrich's and Georg's attitude toward each other change?
“The Interlopers” by Saki is often taught in schools because it is such a striking example of plot twist--the main characters, bent on killing each other for so long, come to an agreement to end their quarrel, only to find themselves trapped and at the mercy of wolves by the end of the story.
Why do the men change their minds about killing each other? The most obvious answer is that they no longer have as much to lose. Faced with a miserable death in the woods, trapped under a fallen tree, there is no longer a reason to hate each other. When one man, Ulrich, finally makes a gesture of kindness, offering Znaeym the flask and promising not to have him killed if the occasion arises, their rivalry melts away.
But Saki does more than just rely on the men’s helplessness to support their decision to forgive each other. Students usually don’t notice that he has already laid the groundwork for a reconciliation earlier in the story: when the men are facing off in the woods, armed, with no witnesses to condemn them, they hold back. Why? Here is how Saki explains it:
But a man who has been brought up under the code of a restraining civilisation cannot easily nerve himself to shoot down his neighbour in cold blood and without word spoken, except for an offence against his hearth and honour.
Despite their feud, their upbringing, and the moral laws that bind civilized people together prevent them from following through on their murderous impulses. Had this moral standard not been instilled in them, they would have attempted to kill each other at that point, a moment or two before the tree crashed to the ground and pinned them down, removing the possibility of killing each other. It can be argued that this is the true climax of the story, because Ulrich and Znaeym still had the option of killing each other but did not.
Awed by the sudden force of Nature that pinions them under the branches of a huge beech tree, Ulrich von Gradwitz, "the inheritor of the quarrel," and Georg Znaeym, "the tireless game-snatcher and raider of the disputed border-forest," join together in prayful thanks and curses. Caught in this precarious position, the men arrive at a new perspective regarding their lives: Neither of them may survive.
...in the pain and laguor that Ulrich himself was feeling the old fierce hatred seemed to be dying down.
Ulrich tells his old enemy that he has concluded that they have been "rather fools"; for, there is much in life better than feuding over a property border. Von Gradwitz entreats his old enemy to let him bury the old quarrel. With nothing to do but ponder von Gradwitz's words, Georg Znaeym considers how the whole region would be shocked if the two men end their feud. Then, each of the men generously offers the other "honorable attention." Unfortunately, there are interlopers to themen's promises of generosity and friendship arrived at in the "moment of truth" as they have considered their chances for survival.