illustration of a wolf standing in the forest looking toward a fallen tree that has pinned a man underneath

The Interlopers

by Saki

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The Interlopers Themes

What is the theme of the story "The Interlopers" by Saki?

Several themes are present in "The Interlopers." One major theme is nature's indifference to man, as Ulrich and Georg feud over who owns a part of the forest, but in the end, their reconciliation doesn't matter to a pack of hungry wolves. Another relevant theme is the danger of senselessly clinging to past grudges.

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In the story The Interlopers, the main theme would be the enmity between Ulrich and Georg, which causes the two men to feud over the small stretch of forest land and become bitter enemies in the process. The beginning of the story is spent explaining how this dispute began, with each man's grandfather fighting over it, until the wealthy landowner Ulrich claims that the land is legally his despite the claims of Georg to the contrary. The latter continues to hunt on the land and this makes Ulrich mad enough to devise a plan to destroy him. So the two men set out on this fateful night to confront each other and end their bitter feud once and for all. Both men, due to their enmity, see the other as the interloper.

There is also a secondary theme that the author introduces which causes the surprise at the end of the story and also introduces the element of irony. Although the men claim legal and/or hunting rights to the land, the idea or theme of nature vs. man comes into play when both men, having been felled and made captive by a giant tree, discover that they are not alone in the forest nor are they in the position to defend their claims or themselves from becoming prey to the natural owners of this piece of wilderness. Despite the fact that Ulrich and Georg had finally decided to disavow their enmity and become friends after all, in the end they will realize that they have made a fatal mistake in thinking that either of them could "own" this stretch of forest land. The wolves, the true and natural owners of the wilderness, have arrived.


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Perhaps the most critical idea that drives "The Interlopers" is the criticism it levels against the kind of long-standing feuds and property disputes that divide its two main characters. Indeed, note the image on which the story opens, with Ulrich intent on finding and killing his adversary (even as Georg plans much the same). However, any expectation of settling this dispute through violence evaporates when the two get trapped together beneath a collapsing tree.

This experience of shared helplessness instills a sense of camaraderie between the two, and their earlier mutual hostility gives way to a spirit of reconciliation. Both men now come to recognize the foolishness of their earlier feuding, swearing friendship with one another. And yet, as the story approaches its end, Saki's writing takes a bleak turn, as the two men call for help, only to observe the approach of wolves.

In this way, Saki's treatment of the feud reveals how petty and self-destructive this behavior actually is. As the characters reconcile with one another and endeavor to put the feud behind them, they realize that their mutual antagonism had amounted to a waste of time, energy, and emotional resources. Indeed, this sense of ultimate futility is encapsulated in the image that closes the story: the wolves don't care about the...

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feud or about what differences these two men might have had with one another. Here, helpless before the advance of wild predators, the manner of their death reveals the full extent of how meaningless their long-standing antagonism truly had been. Yet, at the same time, it should not be forgotten that their feud was also what brought both men into the forest to begin with and is thus responsible for their deaths.

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I would argue that the main theme of "The Interlopers" is the futility of conflict. Ulrich and Georg are waging a battle over a piece of land that their families have been fighting about for generations. It took being pinned under a tree together for the men to realize how ridiculous this debacle was and to see that they could actually be friends. Thanks to the arrival of a pack of wolves at the end of the story, it is strongly implied that this pointless conflict cost both men their lives. It is a story in which unnecessary hatred leads to tragedy.

Another apparent theme is the relationship between man and nature. Both the von Gradwitz and Znaeym families consider themselves to be proud and self-sufficient, but Ulrich and Georg prove no match for the forces of nature. The storm, the tree, and the wolves all prove to overpower the men.

A third theme that runs throughout the story is death. The story opens with Ulrich lying in wait for Georg, armed and ready to kill. When he and Georg cross paths, both are ready to kill, yet neither has the gumption to do this. By following through and shooting his nemesis at this early stage of the story, either man could have saved his own life, because he would not have wound up alone, trapped by a fallen beech tree, and being hunted by a pack of wolves.

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One theme of "The Interlopers" is the dominance of nature over man.

Although the von Gradwitz and Znaeym families have been feuding for generations over a narrow strip of forest, nature triumphs over both. Thus, the two men are the true interlopers in a domain that cannot actually be controlled by any man. When the two enemies first encounter each other "a deed of Nature's own violence overwhelmed them both," and they are pinioned under "a tight tangle of forked branches." While they are in this predicament, the men argue over whose foresters will arrive first. Later, however, as they lie between life and death pondering their situation, the two foes decide to reconcile their differences. Ulrich von Gradwitz tells Georg Znaeym that he has changed his mind, and if his men arrive first, Znaeym will be the first to be helped. After considering this offer, Znaeym decides to extend his friendship to von Gradwitz, as well. But in actuality, they have no control over their situation. Nature asserts its dominance as wolves are seen running down the hill toward them.

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In "The Interlopers," the theme is based on a feud between two families. The feud is based on an argument over a strip of forestland. The hatred that has developed because of this feud has become quite serious, with both Ulrich von Gradwitz and Georg Znaeym having murderous thoughts:

Ulrich and Georg are enemies who have brought a family feud over a piece of forestland to a murderous point.

Through the years, the feud has only grown stronger. The theme is based on the hatred or enmity that Ulrich and Georg have one for the other. These two men have allowed their hatred to culminate to a point which now involves serious, dangerous actions. The two enemies are in the woods waiting for the other one to run into the other. With guns in hand, the two men look at each other with murderous thoughts:

The two men face each other with rifles in hand, but neither can bring himself to shoot the other. Before either man can act, a bolt of lighting strikes a tree. It falls over and pins them underneath its limbs.

While pinned beneath the tree, having time to think about their actions, the theme changes to one of understanding. The two enemies decide to put their differences aside. Now that the feud is over, there is only one thing with which to worry--a pack of wolves is heading in their direction.

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What is the denotation of the short story "The Interlopers" by Saki?

With denotation meaning the literal definition of the word, the title of Saki's story indicates more than one person or thing that intrudes into a region without proper license.

Now, as far as the story itself is concerned, initially interlopers is identified as the two main characters, Ulrich von Gradwitz and Georg Znaeym, as well as the men of each of the hunters.  In the brief moment after von Gradwitz is startled by the sudden encounter with his enemy as he comes around the trunk of a huge beech tree, the two men stare at each other without doing anything. For,

a man who has been brought up under the code of a civilisation cannot easily nerve himself to shoot down his neighbour in cold blood and without word spoken except for an offense against his hearth and honour.

So, they hesitate to fire at each other because of the the interloper, their civilised natures.  Then, before the act of

hesitation had given way to action, a deed of Nature's own violence overwhelmed them both

and the "pestilential wind" causes the old tree crashes upon them and they are pinned beneath them. Thus, the wind, too, becomes an interloper that prevents the men's firing of their rifles. As they lie there between life and death, Ulrich decides that their enemity is not of the importance he has believed; in this change of heart, he offers to reconcile with his enemy and become friends with him in the forest:

And if we choose to make peace among our people there is none other to interfere, no interlopers from outside....

Of course, the situational irony of his word interloper which Ulrich has meant to denote other people is not apparent to either man until the last line of the story:  "Wolves." They are the penultimate interlopers; they are the consummate interlopers, for they intrude into the field of forgiveness and friendship, giving the word interlopers the most significant denotation.

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