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 nations to possess territory and build empires, and the desire of the ethnic nationals in Austria-Hungary to assert their independence helped fuel tensions that erupted in global conflict. Much like Ulrich and Georg, the opposing sides in World War I carried generation-old dislikes to murderous proportions with a willingness to use violence to achieve their goals.
The uneasy relationship between Ulrich and Georg has repercussions within the community. Ulrich is the leading member of an important, powerful family. In response to Ulrich’s proposition that they end the feud, Georg notes the affect their friendship will have on the people around them. The ending of the quarrel would bring peace among the “forester folk,” and “wonderful changes” to the countryside. These comments allude to the difficulties that the long-standing feud has caused within the community in the past and the impact that any peaceful resolution would have on the future.
Man and Nature The very title of the story alludes to the fact that the men are trespassing on the forest in their attempts to assert ownership of it. Although the courts judged that one man—Gradwitz’s grandfather— held title to the land, such claim can only be sustained by the laws of society. In truth, the men and their civilization cannot truly claim the land, as evidenced by their inability to tame the natural world. The tree’s attack on the men initiates this theme, and by the end of the story the men are about to fall prey to a pack of wolves. Each man has abused his rights by coming into the forest with the hope of killing his enemy to gain possession of the woods. However, the wolves, beasts that belong to the wild, appear to be the true victors in this conflict, as it is implied they will kill their human enemy and rid their world of these human intruders.
The Gradwitz family occupies a higher social class than the Znaeym family, and this is one of the reasons that the feud has lasted throughout the generations. The Gradwitz family is wealthy and owns forestlands that are “of wide extent and well stocked with game.” Ulrich lives in a castle. By contrast, Georg Znaeym comes from a family of “petty landowners.” Their insistence of gaining possession of a piece of land to which they have no legal right shows their own lack of territory. Georg continues to hunt upon the disputed land, which affords greater opportunity for game than the marshes where he is forced to hunt.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Saki, Published by Gale, 2002.