The Schartz-Metterklume Method: Themes & Analysis

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Can you learn a lesson about priorities from a short story like ~'The Schartz-Metterklume Method?~' Probably! In this lesson, we'll take a look at the theme of this work and how it fits with the author's own beliefs.

Getting Knocked Down a Peg

Have you ever heard the saying, ''I'd like to knock him down a peg or two''? No, that's not a call to physical violence but, more likely, said when someone is a little too conceited or pretentious for their own good. It might be applicable in a scenario like Saki's short story The Schartz-Metterklume Method. Doesn't the title even suggest an air of superiority?

The Schartz-Metterklume Method is so named for the make-believe form of teaching that Lady Carlotta, pretending to be the governess, says she uses to help instruct children in learning about history. What we discover as we read through the story is that she is somewhat mocking the wealthy Quabarls with her fancy-sounding techniques.

Based on what we've discussed so far, you can probably guess where the theme of this short story is headed. But, let's take a closer look.

Theme

Throughout all the following scenarios, we can see the theme of social critique of the wealthy on display by the story's author.

Very early in the story, Mrs. Quabarl is noted as an ''imposingly attired lady'' who immediately begins assessing the new governess' hair and clothes. She is prideful from the start, flaunting her perfect clothing, perfect children, and perfect expectations of how she expects things to go. She looks down her nose at the carelessness of the railway company for ''losing'' Lady Carlotta's luggage, and then mentions that her maid can lend the woman some things.

The lady of the house is also disappointed when the new governess doesn't express admiration over their large, newly-purchased and expensive car.

As the story progresses, we see Mrs. Quarbarl make demands upon the new governess, particularly concerning the children's studies: ''I wish them not only to be taught, but interested in what they learn.'' She proceeds to tell Lady Carlotta how best to do her job, and informs her that it's expected she'll speak French at meals several times a week.

Lady Carlotta's response, we discover, is the first time that Mrs. Quabarl gets ''knocked off her perch.'' She says she will speak French and Russian. Informed that no one in the house knows Russian, she says, ''That will not embarrass me in the least.''

Mrs. Quabarl is taken aback, and it won't be the last time. She is surprised at dinner to see the governess taking more than her share of wine, and when Lady Carlotta proceeds to speak ill of their supposed mutual friend, the man who had recommended the governess to the Quabarls.

It's at dinner that Lady Carlotta introduces the Quabarls to the ''Schartz-Metterklume Method,'' a fictitious style of teaching that neither of the Quabarls will admit to not recognizing. Their pride comes back to bite them the next day when the governess uses the method to teach the children to act out a particularly inappropriate scene from Roman history.

Social Satire

The theme of criticizing the status of the wealthy in this story falls in line with the author's use of social satire throughout his many works. He directed much criticism toward political and religious institutions, contemporary fashions and behaviors and commonly-held social beliefs.

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