What is the setting for "The Interlopers" and how does it contribute to the mood?

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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. 

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The entire short story, "The Interlopers," by Saki (H. H. Munro), takes place in a wooded forest in the Carpathian (or Karpathian) Mountains that extend through parts of the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and the Ukraine. "The Interlopers" does not specify in which country it takes place. The characters do cover several different parts of the forest, however; part of the story takes place on a crest of a hill (where Ulrich has placed his ambushers) before Ulrich wanders down into the undergrowth below. These are the only two settings in the story, although Ulrich and Georg joke about entering the local market square together after they have reunited. Of course, they will never get the chance.

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The setting to the story is the forest over which these two men have laid claim and are fighting over.  Its thick brush and the darkness that it creates are representative of their feud in that the forest, like their feud, is dense and dark and presents a major problem in their lives. The fact that they come face to face in this forest shows how the forest has brought them together, even though initially it is as enemies in a feud.  However, once they are trapped in the forest and are forced to deal with and finally agree to resolve the feud, the forest, which was once a problem, is now the element that is causing them to solve the issue (seen as they are trapped under a tree).

This setting contributes to the mood of the story in that the depth and darkness of the forest create the sense of danger and foreboding that is present at the beginning. Additionally, the tree that traps the two men mirrors and resonates the conflict in their lives that is bringing them together, namely the feud. This then contributes to the sense of struggle the reader feels.

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The interlopers takes place on the border of two plots of land. It is described as being very steep and heavily wooded- essentially a piece of worthless land because nothing can be grown there and no one can build there. Ulrich and Georg both believe that this useless piece of land is part of his territory and so it has sparked a family feud that reaches across generations of each family. In the story we find the two out "hunting", but they are really looking to accidentally shoot the other because the land is described as not being good for hunting either. The whole story unfolds on this steep, heavily wooded hillside that divides these two regions of land, these two families, and these two men. 

More specifically the majority of the story takes place beneath the tree that has been struck by lightning that has pinned the two men down together, within reach of the other, but not close enough to do any damage, they are forced to speak about their situation.  

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