Why do these men not shoot each other when they come face to face in "The Interlopers"?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Saki's (H.H. Munro) short story "The Interlopers" takes place in the Carpathian forests during a particularly cold winter night. The two main characters, Ulrich von Gradwitz and Georg Znaeym, are inheritors of a bitter feud over a narrow strip of land dividing their respective properties. These men grew up hating each other, and any encounter between them will likely prove fatal to at least one of them. That encounter occurs early in Saki's story, which the author describes as follows:

"The two enemies stood glaring at one another for a long silent moment. Each had a rifle in his hand, each had hate in his heart and murder uppermost in his mind. The chance had come to give full play to the passions of a lifetime."

The reader will be forgiven for expecting that one of these two antagonists will shoot the other instantaneously, the build-up to this moment having prepared for just such occasion. That, however, does not happen. Instead, both men pause in their actions. The reason for this pause is provided by Saki in his reaffirmation of the essential humanity within the two characters:

"A man who has been brought up under the code of a restraining civilization cannot easily nerve himself to shoot down his neighbor in cold blood and without word spoken, except for an offence against his hearth and honor."

With this explanation for the failure of either man to open fire upon his sworn enemy, Saki is both laying the foundation for the reconciliation that will follow and, just as importantly, for the natural disaster about to befall them: the "mass of a falling beech tree" that the ongoing storm causes to fall on them, pinning them to the ground.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the surprising moment when Ulrich von Gradwitz and Georg Znaeym find themselves looking at each other, they cannot react quickly enough to shoot each other in cold blood because they have been brought up as gentlemen who must have words spoken to each other first. 

In that "long, silent moment" that the two enemies look into each other's eyes, there is that hesitation borne of civilization and breeding which prevents the men from shooting each other before the huge branch falls upon them.

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

Since neither their homes nor their honors have been insulted, Znaeym and von Gradwitz miss their opportunities to rid themselves of the enemy because the great beech tree is struck by lightning and a branch crashes upon them. And, so, each man must console himself with the thoughts of his own men reaching the adversary before the others. So, to bolster their courage the two enemies argue that one group will arrive and then kill the other group. However, as fate would have it, wolves arrive before either group of men.

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The Interlopers

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