Adam Frost points out in a retrospective essay on Saki’s career appearing in Contemporary Review, that the author’s first published story, “Dogged,” ends in a “reversal [that] is typical of Saki”; in that story, the “owner becomes pet and vice versa.” Saki would repeat such use of a surprise ending throughout his career as a short story writer, perhaps most famously so in The Open Window. While that story’s ending brought about a comic effect, in “The Interlopers,” which Saki wrote at the end of his career, this pattern is now employed with a more vicious twist: the human hunters become the hunted. This motif is repeated in two different ways. Georg Znaym and Ulrich von Gradwitz are turned into game as each hunts the other, his lifelong enemy. More crucially, however, the men, pinioned under a fallen tree, are about to become the helpless quarry of a pack of wolves. A critic for the New York Times points out that . . . Read More
World War I
In the late 1800s and early 1900s rivalries between European powers began to intensify. Imperialist states were fighting over land in Asia and Africa, ethnic groups were struggling for self-control, and nations were competing to build larger and more powerful military forces. In addition the region had developed a system of alliances in which nations would help each other out in disputes.
In 1914 a Serbian nationalist shot and killed the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, which proved to be the spark that set off World War I. As tensions mounted between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, Germany (which was allied with Austria-Hungary) declared war on Russia (which was allied with Serbia). Germany expanded the conflict when it declared war on France and marched into Belgium to reach France, thus breaking an 1839 neutrality agreement. Great Britain declared war on Germany that same day. Other nations joined the fray, and . . . Read More
Point of View
“The Interlopers” is written from the third-person omniscient point of view, meaning the narrator sees and knows all. This point of view allows the narrator to present the history of the disputed land, explain how the similar personalities of Georg and Ulrich have brought the feud to a murderous brink, and explain the moral codes that govern the enemies. Each man’s perception of the events that have taken place are presented. Access to the thoughts and feelings of both men alerts the reader that the two are actually more alike than different, which further unites the men in their futile feud and even more futile impending death.
The dialogue in “The Interlopers” is important because it is the means by which the men express their willingness to step away from their feud. Ulrich, speaking first of the desire to “bury the old quarrel,” uses a . . . Read More
Ulrich and Georg are enemies who have brought a family feud over a piece of forestland to a murderous point. Since the original court settlement, which ostensibly ended the dispute, members of both families have participated in ‘ ‘poaching affrays and similar scandals.” Instead of dissipating over the years, the feud has strengthened throughout the lifetime of Ulrich and Georg, two generations removed from the original disputants. Saki does not reveal why the enmity has strengthened, merely alluding to the “personal ill-will” that exists between the men.
The hatred that each man feels for the other represents larger instances of animosity. At the time that Saki wrote the story, he was serving as a soldier in World War I, a conflict that developed out of inherited ethnic conflicts surrounding land claims that were unable to be satisfied by arbitrary judicial decisions. The drive of European . . . Read More
The characters in “The Interlopers,” Ulrich von Gradwitz and Georg Znaeym, have been enemies since birth. Their grandfathers feuded over a piece of forestland. While the courts ruled in the Gradwitz family’s favor, the Znaeym family has never accepted this ruling. Throughout the course of Ulrich and Georg’s lifetime, the feud has grown into a personal, bloodthirsty one. As boys, they despised each other, and by the evening that the story takes place, the two grown men are determined to bring a final end to the feud by killing their enemy.
On this fateful evening, Ulrich gathers a group of foresters to patrol the land in search of Georg. Separated from his men, he hopes to meet Georg alone and, when he steps around a tree trunk, he gets his wish. The two men face each other with rifles in hand, but neither can bring himself to shoot the other. Before either man can act, a bolt of lighting strikes a tree. It falls over and pins them underneath its . . . Read More
Harlan Ellison first published “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” in the March 1967 issue of IF: Worlds of Science Fiction, before using it as the title story in his 1967 collection / Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. A horrifying and ghastly story of a post-apocalyptic hell controlled by a monster computer, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” attracted the attention of Ellison fans and critics alike, winning a Hugo award in 1968.
In the years since its original publication, the story has continued to attract critical attention. Because it is fraught with ambiguity and layered with nightmarish imagery, the story provides fertile ground for varied interpretations.
Critics such as Joann Cobb, for example, argue that the story reveals those attitudes present in 1967 toward the growth of technology. Others suggest that the story represents cultural anxiety over the relationship between humans and machines, an anxiety that finds . . . Read More
The Cold War
From the end of World War II through the mid1980s, the world endured a period commonly known as “The Cold War,” a standoff between nuclear superpowers which constantly threatened each other with mutual destruction. During this time, both the United States and the former Soviet Union built up huge arsenals of nuclear weapons aimed at each other. It was clear that if the weapons were ever unleashed, all life on Earth would end. Consequently, although there were many “brush fire” wars in remote corners of the globe, there was not a world war of the scope of either World War I or World War II. Nevertheless, there was a great deal of posturing and mutual fear. Many young people growing up during this time were convinced that their world would end in a nuclear firestorm.
The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 did nothing to allay fears. When the Americans discovered that the Soviets were installing nuclear . . . Read More
Point of View
Ellison has provided “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” with a limited, first-person narrator. Thus, all of the events of the story must be filtered through the mind and voice of Ted, one of the humans trapped by the computer AM. Because everything is told from the “I” perspective, the reader cannot ascertain what other characters are thinking or their motives for what they do. The reader can only know what the first-person narrator provides.
There are certain advantages to the use of a first-person narrator. In the first place, the use of the first-person pronoun makes the story seem immediate and compelling. It is as if a real person is telling the story directly to the reader, almost as if the narrator and the reader are engaged in a meaningful conversation. In addition, the use of the first-person encourages the reader to trust the account. Thus, when the narrator reports that there is a . . . Read More
Individual versus Machine
Any number of critics have noted that one of Ellison’s favorite themes is the relationship between humans and the machines they create. Certainly, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” explores what happens when people create machines “because our time was badly spent.” Like other dystopian writers of the 1950s and 1960s, Ellison extrapolated trends he saw in his own culture and carried them to their extreme conclusions in an imaginary future he envisioned. Unlike a Utopia (an imaginary, ideal world), a dystopia is a form of literature that describes a future, imaginary world that is far from ideal. In a dystopia, current trends are carried out to their most horrifying conclusions.
In “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” humans have created computers as weapons of mass destruction. Although they have given the computers the ability to reason and think, they have not . . . Read More
Although not human, the computer, which calls itself AM, is perhaps the main character in the story. Originally, AM was one of several national computers designed to fight wars for the nation that owned it. Eventually, the computers learned to link themselves to each other, forming one supercomputer. When this supercomputer awoke, or became sentient, it called itself AM. AM hates all human beings, according to Ted, because “We had created it to think, but there was nothing it could do with that creativity.” AM killed all the humans on the face of the Earth, save five. Then AM brought the humans inside itself and created a hellish world for them in which it could torture and torment the survivors, but not let them die. During the story, AM plays with each of the survivors in turn, seemingly enjoying their pain and suffering.
One of the survivors, Benny, was a brilliant theoretician and . . . Read More