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 influence of the natural setting on the conflict and actions of Ulrich and Georg in "The Interlopers"


The natural setting heavily influences the conflict and actions of Ulrich and Georg. The remote, forested area intensifies their long-standing feud over land, isolating them and forcing a direct confrontation. The harsh weather and falling tree trap them together, compelling them to reconcile. Ultimately, nature's dominance underscores their vulnerability and the futility of their dispute.

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How does the natural setting influence Ulrich's actions in "The Interlopers"?

Ulrich von Gradwitz lives for the day that he can rid himself of his enemy, Georg Znaeym, whom he considers a "tireless game snatcher" and "raider of the disputed border forest." Therefore, he patrols this part of the forest regularly. On one particularly windy night as the deer act counter to their natures, he sets out with his foresters to find his enemy, who he determines must be in the forest.

Even during inclement weather, Ulrich has his foresters join him as he patrols the land that he considers his despite the famous lawsuit and the refusal of the dispossessed party not having accepted the judgment of the courts. On this particular night he probably would not venture out, but because the deer have been "running like driven things" rather than bed down in the windy night as they normally would, Ulrich suspects his enemy of prowling this strip of forest. So, he has his foresters station themselves on the crest of a hill while he treks through the lower part of the contested forest.

In the midst of this wind and developing storm, Ulrich comes around a huge beech tree and finds himself staring in the face of his sworn enemy. In that split second of hesitation because of their breeding as gentlemen, neither fires a shot. In the next instant, lightning strikes the huge old tree, and "a deed of Nature's own violence overwhelmed them both." Both Ulrich and Georg Znaeym are pinned beneath splintered branches. 

As they lie trapped together in enmity, each threatens the other with what his men will do to his enemy. But, as time passes and none of the foresters appear, Ulrich begins to ponder their dangerous predicament. After some private deliberation, Ulrich reconsiders, and he rids himself of his animosity. He asks Georg if he can reach his flask of warm wine if he tosses it to Georg, adding, "Let us drink, even if tonight one of us dies. Georg refuses the offer, adamant in his hatred, "....I don't drink wine with an enemy." But, as time passes and Ulrich pursues his attempts at amelioration, Georg finally relents.

"I think I have changed my mind about things, too....And you offered me your wine flask....Ulrich von Gradwitz, I will be your friend."

Like Ulrich, Georg has realized that they are in a life-and-death situation, and a feud over a strip of land somehow seems insignificant now.

Clearly, the stormy night in the forest and their being victimized by Nature has put the enmity that each feels toward the other into different perspectives. Influenced by these factors, Ulrich von Gradwitz offers his friendship to his old foe, and his enemy, George Znaeym, reconsiders his animus and resolves, also, to end their longstanding feud.

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How does the setting change the conflict between Ulrich and Georg in "The Interlopers"?

When the lightning during the storm strikes in the contested forest, the huge birch tree that is struck by lightning pins Ulrich von Gradwitz and Georg Znaeym beneath its fallen branches. Held captive in this manner, the two enemies begin to reconsider their attitudes about each other.

Having been locked in conflict for generations, the two enemies who are now pinioned down near each other utter both "thank offerings and sharp curses." At first, the two men threaten that their entourages will reach them before the other's. Georg promises his men will free him, and in so doing, the mass of the trunk of the big tree will roll over the top of Ulrich. "For form's sake I shall send my condolences to your family," he says to his enemy. Ulrich claims his men will arrive first, and when they are able to release him from the branches, he will remember Georg's threat.

Only as you will have met your death poaching on my lands, I don't think I can decently send any message of condolence to your family.

As time passes and no men appear, Ulrich manages to bring his partially free arm around to his outer pocket and draw out his wine flask. After some time he manages to pour some of the warming liquid down his throat. Looking over at his enemy, Ulrich feels some pity and offers his suffering enemy some of his wine. Georg declines, telling him there is so much blood in his eyes that he can barely see; besides, he adds, he will not drink with an enemy.
Ulrich is quiet for a time, but "in the pain and languor that Ulrich himself was feeling," his hatred seems to die. Now, he calls Georg his neighbor, and he declares that if his men arrive first, he will have them help Georg first.

Lying here tonight, thinking, I've come to think we've been rather fools; there are better things in life than getting the better of a boundary dispute. Neighbor, if you will help me to bury the old quarrel, I—I will ask you to be my friend.

Georg Znaeym is silent for a long time—so long, in fact, Ulrich thinks that Georg may have fainted. At last, George answers haltingly:

How the whole region would stare and gabble if we rode into the market square together. No one living can remember seeing a Znaeym and a von Gradwitz talking to one another in friendship. And what peace there would be among the forester folk if we ended our feud tonight...I never thought to have wanted to do other than hate you all my life, but I think I have changed my mind about things...Ulrich von Gradwitz, I will be your friend.

They lie silently, imagining how things will be after this reconciliation. When no men appear after all this time, Ulrich suggests they shout for help. The two men raise their voices in a hunting call. In a short while, they hear sounds, but the sounds belong to neither company of men. Tragically, the men's conflict will soon end, but the end will come from their mutual deaths, not their reconciliation. For, the "rescue" company that runs toward them are not men, but wolves.

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How does the setting change the conflict between Ulrich and Georg in "The Interlopers"?

Once the tree topples onto them, Ulrich and Georg are held captive close to one another beneath the imprisoning branches. This forces them to confront their existential conditions and gives them time to ponder those thoughts seriously.

After having suffered some injuries, the two foes review their reasons for having come out on this night. Under the circumstances, their animosity to each other seems rather trivial.

In the pain and languor that Ulrich himself was feeling, the old fierce hatred seemed to be dying down.

Further, he tells his old foe that he has come to the conclusion that they have been foolish because there are "better things in life than getting the better of a boundary dispute." He asks Georg to be his friend. Georg Znaeym is quiet for some time, but eventually says,

what peace there would be among the forester folk if we ended our feud tonight. And if we choose to make peace among our people, there is no other to interfere, no interlopers from outside... You would come and keep the Sylvester night beneath my roof.

Unfortunately, there are "interlopers from outside" who interfere in Georg's and Ulrich's plans for amelioration: wolves are heard "making all the speed they can" to reach the two men imprisoned in the disputed forest, men who chatter in "the idiotic manner" known only to those who are faced with "hideous fear."

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