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Sredni Vashtar by Saki: Theme & Analysis

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

In this lesson, we will study a detailed analysis of the short story, ''Sredni Vashtar'' written by H. H. Munro (also known as Saki) and the themes he has based this story upon.

Dark Side of Conradin

Have you ever wished for something so much, everyday, over and over again and then suddenly when you least expected it, it came true? This story is about a boy who wishes to be freed from his captor; his cousin and legal guardian. His wishes are a lot darker than those of the average 10 year old boy.

Analysis

The story starts off with the depiction of how Conradin's cousin is mentally abusing him by controlling every aspect of his life. Anything he takes pleasure in, she takes away. She has no feelings of endearment toward him whatsoever and makes it clear enough with her actions. She does this while masquerading as his caregiver. The things she does are cruel, but according to her are for his own good. We see examples of this when she sells his only friend, a chicken. She then tries to make up for it with something as trivial as toast, because she has denied that to him in the past

Conradin has deep resentment issues towards his cousin. He downright hates her. His only way of dealing with his life is to use his imagination-- and what a brilliant one he has. He makes up a god, befriends a chicken, and partially believes that his god is capable of granting wishes. This thought process gives the boy some glimmer of hope, even if he hopes for heinous things. This passive aggressiveness comes out in full form when his cousin is killed. The whole time, he had been wishing for it. When it actually does happen, he receives some kind gratification from the affirmation of the nature of the attack. The boy shows serious signs of mental illness since he shows no feelings of remorse at all.

The fact that Conradin proclaims the ferret to be his god is quite symbolic. He is described to be afraid of it, but he also treasured it. From this fear came a name and from the name a religion. The boy sees fear as authority. The one and only thing he is willing to give control of his life to. He worships it in order to respect it and to receive blessings from it.

Themes in Sredni Vastar

There are a few themes in this story. We will touch on the three main themes, which are religion, imagination, and revenge.

Religion:

It is interesting that Conradin chooses to worship the one thing in his life that he has fear and respect for. The fierce ferret, which is locked in a cage, is not at all friendly. Conradin is afraid of it. Luckily, it cannot get to him and he keeps a safe distance from it. This creature becomes his object of obsession and admiration. So much so, that Conradin starts to worship it. He has rituals and offerings for the ferret. Even though he is aware of what he is doing, using his imagination, towards the end of the story, when his cousin hasn't come out of the shed, he actually wonders if his 'prayers' have come true.

When he prays to Sredni Vastar, he asks ''Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.'' He does not mention what it is because if Sredni Vastar were truly a god, it would know exactly what Conradin was asking for. At some point, Conradin comes to truly believe in the legitimacy of his make-believe god.

Conradin also assigns his friend, the hen, a religion called ''Anabaptist''. He has a very bad impression of his cousin's religion. It's possible that he projected his hatred for her onto her religion. We see this when he mentions that his own religion is the exact opposite of hers.

Imagination:

Conradin has a very unique and vivid imagination. Most children in desperate need of company make up imaginary friends but Conradin went further than that and made up a God named Sredni Vashtar. He bestowed this role onto the caged, violent ferret in the shed. Instead of dealing with the reality of his life, Conradin chose to make up a new world using his imagination. The author mentions that this is what keeps him from succumbing to his probable illness.

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