Saki’s “The Interlopers” is an ironic tale about a generational family feud that appears to be resolved until a surprise ending occurs. In this story, as in many stories, the setting is more important than just the simple reporting of the time and place in which the action occurs.
Good settings should complement and reflect upon a work’s mood and theme. This is often done symbolically, as aspects of the place(s) in the story represent characters’ attitudes, beliefs, hopes, fears, etc. Such symbolism, while not always immediately obvious to the reader, draws the reader deeper into the story.
The setting in “The Interlopers” is "the narrow strip of precipitous woodland" that the families of the two main characters have been conflicting over for several generations.
The land is not particularly valuable in and of itself; by establishing that the setting is a relatively meaningless piece of property, Sake has commented on the effect of possessiveness and spite: people are willing to kill and die for it. The mood here is somber.
When the two main characters are out hunting on this piece of land, the setting is described in a way that emphasizes the danger it represents, as one character has:
wandered far down the steep slopes amid the wild tangle of undergrowth, peering through the tree trunks and listening through the whistling and skirling of the wind and the restless beating of the branches.
So, at this point in the story the setting has done two things—established the characters’ greed, and foreshadowed a mood of dread and danger by establishing the situation the characters will soon find themselves in.
Once the characters encounter each other, the setting takes on a more symbolic function. As they stare each other down at gunpoint, a bolt of lightning shatters a nearby tree, which falls and pins them both to the ground:
A fierce shriek of the storm had been answered by a splitting crash over their heads, and ere they could leap aside a mass of falling beech tree had thundered down on them.
Look at what has happened with Saki’s depiction of the setting now: the men have each been injured and trapped by the tree, which is part of the property they are fighting over. Symbolically this presentation of the setting demonstrates the idea that greed and feuds will entrap people who engage in them. In this case, both men are imperiled by the same aspect (the tree) of the land they are fighting over.
Now the story moves into another phase. Since the men are trapped near each other, they can do nothing but think. They decide to end the feud. So the setting, by physically restraining the men, has brought about their reconciliation. This positive mood is short-lived; however, because the setting has one more blow to deal to the men. When they think they see men approaching them a distance away, the men believe they are about to be rescued. The only question is who the men are:
“Who are they?” asked Georg quickly, straining his eyes to see what the other would gladly not have seen.
The wolves, like the tree that trapped them, are also elements of this particular setting. The happy ending we thought we were about to get will not happen. By using the wolves to kill them (we can assume they were attacked by the wolves, although the story ends before this happens) Saki has brought about the men’s ultimate demise through the thing that actually caused their feud in the first place—the land (which is, of course, the setting). If the men had simply killed one another with gunfire we would not have the same symbolic significance. Saki leaves the readers in a cautionary mood--look what can happen when we place possessions above people.