The Guests by Saki: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

''The Guests'' is a short story by Hector Hugh Munro, better known by the pen name Saki. As is common for this particular short story writer, the tone of the story is satirical, commenting on British upper class society.

In Context of British Rule

Why would one culture find it acceptable to come into a foreign country and take over? The idea of the British Empire expanding all over the globe is part of the particular time period in which Saki wrote the short story called ''The Guests.''

Saki is the pen name of Hector Hugh Munro, a witty and talented British writer, best known for his short stories that frequently satirized upper class British culture and society.

For this particular story to make a connection with the modern reader, we need to think back to when India was part of the British Empire, which had direct rule in India from 1858 to 1947. During this time, many wealthy British citizens made their homes in India, having Indian natives as servants, both in the home and tending to livestock.

British household in India during British rule
India during Raj

The relationship between the British living in India and their Indian employees is difficult for the modern reader to grasp.

A Story Only In The Past

In one way, this is a short story in which nothing actually happens. Two women are talking, and all of the action that the reader encounters takes place in the context of this conversation. It is never directly said that the conversation is taking place in England, but the description of the landscape in the introduction to the story makes this a logical guess.

One of the women, Matilda, appreciates the peace and quiet compared to the tale of domestic upset in her Indian home. Here is a brief version of the story Matilda tells her friend Annabel:

The Bishop as an Unwelcome Guest

Matilda's husband was away from the home due to some villagers believing there was a were-tiger abroad in the countryside. She therefore had to entertain a distant family member alone: a Bishop who had some type of grudge over a Crown Derby dessert service inherited by one branch of the family or the other.

She tells her friend, ''Now here was one of them turning up in the odour of sanctity, so to speak, and claiming the traditional hospitality of the East.''

Apparently, though Matilda tried to be polite, the Bishop was determined to revive the quarrel, and the two end up barely on speaking terms. Matilda has sent the cook on a brief holiday to visit his mother, which further angers her guest, ''and from that moment we were scarcely on speaking terms.''

The Flood

That's when nature steps in to create even more havoc. The Gwadlipichee River overflows, and this sets several events into action. The horses must be led to swim to higher ground, the goats and the goatherd (with his family) must be brought indoors, and the hens and chickens take up residence in every possible spare part of the house.

Barnyard fowl in the house
Barnyard Fowl in the House

The back-up cook fails miserably to measure up to the Bishop's standards, and the entire household is a wreck from top to bottom. Into this scene enters the Bishop, wakened from his nap and entering the family sitting room, which he has been coldly asked not to enter.

The Leopard

Matilda tells him that there is nowhere for him to sit, as ''The verandah is full of goats.'' He then replies that there is also a goat in his room - a dead goat being devoured by a leopard.

Annabel is shocked at this new dire happening in her friend's story, but Matilda seems to think it a matter of course. After all, the leopard posed no real danger, as it had just eaten an entire goat and was ready to sleep.

A long sleep after a good meal
Sleeping Leopard

Shortly after that incident, the flood water began to recede, and the animals could be removed from the human residence. Although there was a period of time in which the Bishop wished to leave before the leopard did, eventually Matilda's house was returned to order.

And that completes Saki's story. Annabel has now a better understanding of why Matilda appreciates the quiet countryside, dull though it may be.

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