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The Interlopers by Saki: Theme & Analysis

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  • 0:02 Themes of ''The Interlopers''
  • 1:15 Character vs. Character
  • 3:03 Character vs. Nature
  • 3:48 Analysis of the Title
  • 4:30 Analysis of Literary…
  • 6:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Raudenbush
'The Interlopers' by Saki presents dark themes related to vendettas, violence, and man's place in the natural world. The story belongs to the pessimistic world of literary naturalism and thematically has parallels to World War I.

Themes of The Interlopers

Read the opening paragraphs of ''The Interlopers,'' a literary naturalist story by Saki, and you immediately know that this story is about vendettas fueled by generations of hatred. You might even suspect that the backdrop of a stormy night in a dark forest will play a central role in the story. However, you will need to read the entire text, and even consider numerous elements, to fully grasp the complex set of themes present in the story.

The author Saki embedded clues to the themes in other literary elements, such as conflict and main characters. First, we will look at conflict in the story and then examine how the main characters change during the story. Finally, we will examine a second conflict that emerges in the story and analyze how that conflict is resolved.

Saki, the pen name of British author, journalist, and satirist Hector Hugh Munro, was killed by a German sniper during World War I. ''The Interlopers'' first appeared in his story collection The Toys of Peace and Other Papers published in 1919, after his death. As we analyze the feud in the short story, we can draw some parallels to WWI.

Character vs. Character

The central conflict in the story resides in the feud between Ulrich von Gradwitz and Georg Znaeym, representing the theme of character versus character. As the conflict develops and the outcome becomes clear, the themes become apparent. This is a story that develops a theme about the futility of violence as a means to resolve external conflicts.

Ulrich and Georg inherited their animosity. It stems from a lawsuit between their grandfathers, which resulted in the von Gradwitz family taking ownership of a stretch of disputed forest land. While the feud predates their birth, Ulrich and Georg have hated each other since childhood. As the story opens, Ulrich hopes to catch Georg poaching in the forest so that he has an excuse to kill his adversary.

Von Gradwitz and Znaeym resolve their conflict sooner than would be expected. It takes about 30 minutes after they are both trapped beneath a fallen tree for Ulrich to offer Georg wine from his flask and for the two men to become friends.

It's clear the hatred wasn't as intense as it first appeared. That's where the first theme materializes. Saki shows us that a hatred passed on from generation to generation will weaken over time. While the animosity between Ulrich and Georg seems passionate in the first few paragraphs, it's not strong enough to overpower their instinct for survival.

However, neither Ulrich nor Georg escapes the consequences of their feud, even after they make peace. Pinned under a fallen beech tree, they become food for the wolves of the forest. Their shared fate appears tragic because it follows a reconciliation. Since Ulrich and Georg entered the forest with murderous intent, we can say that Saki wants the reader to see the tragedy in carrying hatred to its extreme.

Character vs. Nature

The feud is the main conflict in the story. However, it isn't the only conflict; there's also the conflict of character versus nature. The main characters fight the forces of nature, represented by the storm, the fallen tree, and the approaching wolves. Thematically, Saki demonstrates that man is powerless against nature, and human conflicts are petty in comparison to what nature can throw at us. Von Gradwitz and Znaeym can dispute ownership of the land, but ultimately the land defies human ownership and conquers them both.

Both men are powerless against the storm and the beasts. They can't budge the tree that pins them down. The wind drowns out their shouts for help. They know they are doomed once they see the wolves approaching.

Analysis of the Title

One shouldn't leave a discussion of theme in this story without touching on the title. The first and most obvious interloper in the story is Georg, the poacher, who interlopes on the contended forest. This prompts Ulrich to confront his long-time enemy. That sets the stage for the main action in the story.

However, Georg may not be the true interloper here. The true interloper here is the human violence that intrudes upon the forest. The natural world fights back with it's own kind of violence: a terrifying storm and a pack of wolves to dispatch the feuding parties. Thematically, Saki may have wanted the reader to see how human violence intrudes on the natural order of the planet.

Analysis of Literary Naturalism

Some critics would classify this story as part of the school of literary naturalism. However, don't confuse naturalism with the character vs. nature conflict. As an artistic movement, naturalism grew out of realism, which is a technique of writing that presents things as they actually are - unlike a world of idealism. Literary naturalism is more specific and the stories tend to include a pessimistic tone, characters who suffer apparently predetermined fates, and a twist at the end of the story. All those descriptions apply to ''The Interlopers.''

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