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 by Saki
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 ''The Guests,'' a short story by Saki, the pen name of Hector Hugh Munro, a talented and witty British writer, best known for his short stories that frequently satirized upper class British culture and society.
In one way, this is a short story in which nothing actually happens. Two women, Matilda and Annabel, are talking, and all of the action in the story takes place in the context of their conversation. The author never directly states that the conversation is taking place in England. However, the description of the landscape in the introduction to the story makes for a logical guess.
The context of the story is a period of time when India was part of the British Empire, which had direct rule in India from 1858 to 1947. During this period, many wealthy British citizens made their homes in India, having Indian natives as servants, both in the home and tending to livestock.
One of the women in the story, Matilda, appreciates the peace and quiet compared to the domestic upset in her Indian home. Here is a brief version of the story Matilda tells her friend Annabel.
Matilda's husband was away from the home due to the belief of some villagers that there was a were-tiger abroad in the countryside. She therefore had to entertain a distant family member alone: a Bishop who was holding some type of grudge over a Crown Derby dessert service inherited by one branch of the family or the other.
Matilda 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 speaking to each other. Matilda's cook is away visiting his mother, which further angers her guest, ''and from that moment we were scarcely on speaking terms.''
That's when nature steps in to create even more havoc. The Gwadlipichee River overflows and sets in motion a series of events. 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 must be allowed to take up residence in every possible spare part of the house.
The back-up cook fails miserably when it comes to measuring up to the Bishop's standards, and the entire household is a wreck from top to bottom. Into this scene walks the Bishop, who, after awakening from his nap, finds his way into the family sitting room, which he has been coldly asked not to enter.
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 by this new twist 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.
Shortly after the incident, the flood water began to recede, allowing the animals to be removed from the 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.
There are two levels of understanding to this story. On a superficial level, there's the humor involved in picturing the crazy scene Matilda describes. Most of us can relate to a difficult house guest, a natural event that causes havoc, and the temporary chaos of finding room for all the displaced livestock. A leopard inside a guest room eating a goat is quite something to imagine!
The underlying level of understanding is Saki's satirizing of the attitudes of British upper class women at the time. Matilda, who lives in India, believes herself above her native employees. When she describes them, there is very little difference between the workers and the animals. She also pokes fun at the Indian villagers' belief in a were-tiger.
The elements of the story that Annabel finds shocking have nothing to do with this superior attitude. Instead, she is frightened of the leopard in the tale and made uncomfortable by the prospect of a family feud between Matilda and the Bishop.
Let's review. ''The Guests,'' a short story by Saki, the pen name of Hector Hugh Munro, takes place entirely in the context of a conversation between two friends, Matilda and Annabel. Matilda conveys to Annabel her appreciation of peace and quiet throughout a story of a wild incident that took place in her home in India.
The context of the story is the British Empire, which had direct rule in India from 1858 to 1947. As a member of this empire, Matilda had as her houseguests an unfriendly Bishop, all of the goats and fowl from their property, the goatherd and his family, plus a leopard feeding on a goat in the Bishop's bed chamber.
The story not only evokes a sense of humor, given the ridiculous situation, but also satirizes the attitudes of British upper class women of the period who think they're above the native servants and their ways. However, the elements of the story that Annabel finds shocking have nothing to do with this superior attitude. Instead, she's frightened by the leopard in this tale and discomforted by the prospect of a family feud between Matilda and the Bishop.
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