The setting of a short story is not simply the time and place; setting can also include lighting, social conditions and weather. Careful description of these aspects helps the reader gain a greater sense of the story and can connect to the story's central theme and greatly enhance the author's purpose. Saki's use of setting provides "The Interlopers" with its mood, situational irony and ironic climax. Setting is arguably the most effective element in "The Interlopers."
Time and Place
The physical setting of "The Interlopers" is the eastern edge of the Carpathian Mountains, which range from the Czech Republic in the northeast to Romania in the south. The two main characters of the story -- Ulrich von Gradwitz and Georg Znaeym -- are in a "dark forest," a "narrow strip of precipitous woodland," which, ironically, is of no real use to either man but is the source of their dispute and continuing feud. As with many short stories, no specific time is mentioned, but we do know that the author lived from 1870 to 1916 and that in the story night is approaching.
The weather adds additional mood and complications for the characters in "The Interlopers." It is a "wind-scourged winter night" that causes "unrest among the creatures that were wont to sleep through the dark hours." The "disturbing element in the forest" pushes Ulrich to wish "[i]f only on this wild night, in this dark, lone spot, he might come across Georg Znaeym, man to man, with none to witness." The wildness of the winter wind accentuates the wildness felt by the character.
Although the overall setting for "The Interlopers" remains the same, it shifts in the sense that it becomes more narrowed and focused. "[A] deed of Nature's own violence overwhelmed them both. A fierce shriek of the storm had been answered by a splitting crash over their heads, and ere they could leap aside a mass of falling beech tree had thundered down on them," pinning both characters to the ground. The setting then reflects the characters' own relationship: "All around them lay a thick-strewn wreckage of splintered branches and broken twigs." The characters' immobility illustrates a more immediate setting as they lay side by side, nearly able to touch each other.
Irony in Setting
The final use of setting in "The Interlopers" occurs shortly after Znaeym and Gradwitz become pinned by the fallen tree. After exchanging curses, the two eventually realize that their feud over a useless bit of wild land is pointless. The cold, desolate, unfriendly, isolated winter weather has actually brought the two men closer together. The final irony is that in this wild setting, there are naturally wild creatures, and after finally ending their feud, Znaeym and Gradwitz suddenly realize that a pack of wolves is about to descend upon them.