Sredni Vashtar

by Saki

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Style and Technique

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All of Saki’s short stories are very short and to the point, and “Sredni Vashtar” is no exception. Many of his stories are also as macabre as this one. What distinguishes Saki’s stories is his ability to capture the feelings and attitudes of children toward their elders. That he was reared by two aunts, one of whom acted sadistically toward children, is probably what motivated Saki to fill so many of his stories with young children and sadistic elder guardians. His purpose is usually achieved by a quasi-objective narrative stance, in which the narrator interprets events from the point of view of the young protagonist but pretends to relate events objectively, as in this story.

The narrator at the beginning depicts the situation as Conradin views it. To him, Mrs. De Ropp represents “those three-fifths of the world that are necessary and disagreeable and real,” while “the other two-fifths, in perpetual antagonism to the foregoing, were summed up in himself and his imagination.” The fruit trees in the “dull cheerless garden” are described as being “jealously apart from his plucking, as though they were rare specimens of their kind blooming in an arid waste.” It is an adult narrating the perceptions of a child.

Mrs. De Ropp becomes for the boy the epitome of all that is respectable, and thus the antithesis of all that he holds dear. When she has sold his beloved hen, he refuses to let her see how deeply he feels the loss, but he is described as hating the world as represented chiefly by Mrs. De Ropp. His antipathy takes the form of his devoting his energies to praying more fervently to his animal god.

Saki cleverly omits mentioning the subject of Conradin’s supplication to Sredni Vashtar, and while the cousin is in the toolshed to get rid of the ferret, the narrator describes Conradin’s imagining his cruel cousin’s final triumph over him by extirpating the one creature he so venerates. Then, as Saki obliquely informs the reader of the demise of the hated guardian, his description of Conradin calmly eating and enjoying his butter and toast heightens the reader’s sense of shock.

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