Style and Technique
This brief masterpiece is an excellent representation of the principal stylistic and technical elements of Saki’s achievement. Above all, the economy of the story’s construction—the swift drafting of the background, with its elements of local color and drama; the limited cast of characters; the neat, subtle introduction and arrangement of the plot details necessary to the surprise conclusion—is typically masterful, and indeed necessary to the success of the story because readers must not have time to doubt the realism of the situation, in either its physical or psychological aspects.
The quiet, calm voice of the omniscient narrator seems initially to comfort the reader with a sense of control over the events that it narrates, yet as the disquieting details accumulate—the restlessness of the forest creatures, the “accident” of the tree’s falling at just the right moment, the “success” of the men’s calls for help, the alarming hysteria of Ulrich’s laughter—the lack of modulation in the tones of the narrator becomes one of the principal devices by which the suspense is developed and sustained. The end of the story reveals Saki’s powerful control in the fact that the surprise is held back until the very last word—a word that, in retrospect, explains and justifies all the details and arrangements made in the careful crafting of the story as a whole.
World War I
In the late 1800s and early 1900s rivalries between European powers began to intensify. Imperialist states were fighting over land in Asia and Africa, ethnic groups were struggling for self-control, and nations were competing to build larger and more powerful military forces. In addition the region had developed a system of alliances in which nations would help each other out in disputes.
In 1914 a Serbian nationalist shot and killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, which proved to be the spark that set off World War I. As tensions mounted between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, Germany (which was allied with Austria-Hungary) declared war on Russia (which was allied with Serbia). Germany expanded the conflict when it declared war on France and marched into Belgium to reach France, thus breaking an 1839 neutrality agreement. Great Britain declared war on Germany that same day. Other nations joined the fray, and eventually Europe was divided between the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire) and the Allied forces (Britain, France, Russia, Italy, and dozens of other nations).
The western front of the war stretched along eastern France, while the eastern front saw battles deep into Russia. Fighting also took place in the location of present-day Turkey, as well as in the North Sea. In 1916 the war in the west and the war at sea had reached a stalemate. However, early in 1917, Germany decided to use unrestricted submarine warfare and also sent a secret telegram to Mexico proposing an alliance against the United States. In April 1917 the...
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