The Guests by Saki (H.H. Munro)
In The Guests by Saki we have the theme of boredom, tension, animosity, gratitude, arrogance and respect. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story it becomes clear to the reader that Saki is exploring the theme of boredom. Annabel is bored with the environment she finds herself in. It is as though the countryside cannot fulfill her needs. This is unlike how Matilda feels. She is happy to be bored with her surroundings. Something that becomes clearer to the reader as the story progresses. Matilda relays a story to Annabel that leaves the reader understanding fully how Matilda might like the quiet of the countryside. She has a tension filled relationship with one of her relatives that has led to a continued animosity between the two sides of the family.
Though the incident with the Crown Derby dessert service which caused the animosity has passed the feelings around the incident have not and the Bishop is quick to open old wounds leading to further tension with Matilda. Who really is more concerned about the Gwadlipichee River flooding its banks. She knows that her home is the only place people can go to and she is in no mood to listen to the Bishop while her house is filled by others. This could be significant as it is possible that Saki is attempting to highlight how petty the argument between Matilda and the Bishop is. None of the relatives who were involved with the incident are alive and yet it still preoccupies the Bishop’s mind. While Matilda remains defensive enough to allow for the argument to continue. It would be far better if Matilda told the Bishop that events happened so long ago that they should be forgotten.
It might also be worth noting that Matilda though she scorns the servants being in her home. Still nonetheless is welcoming to them to a degree. She knows how serious the flooding is and knows that she has to allow others into her home. Servants or not. This sense of respect is matched by Matilda’s refusal to discuss the matter of family rivalry with the Bishop after it is initially raised by the Bishop. What is also interesting is the lack of gratitude that the Bishop has for Matilda. At no stage does he thank Matilda or come to an understanding of how difficult things are because of the flood.
The end of the story is interesting as Matilda without saying it gets her wish. The Bishop leaves her home (disgruntled). He has not enjoyed his stay nor has he resolved the rivalry between the different branches of the family. This may be significant as it suggests that the Bishop and his family remain bitter against Matilda and her side of the family. Time has not lessened the wound that the Bishop feels has been inflicted on him and his family. Also by introducing the Bishop into the story Saki manages to undermine those who are supposed to be in authority. The reader is left in very little doubt that animosity exists between Matilda and the Bishop. However so trifle is the issue that one is surprised that the Bishop gives it so much weight. Which may be the point that Saki is making. He could be suggesting that those in authority may not necessarily be right. Just because a person has a position of authority does not necessarily mean they are right about an issue. In this case the issue with regard to the Crown Derby dessert service. Even when he leaves the house the Bishop is unapologetic and unforgiving. Something that one would not expect from a man who preaches forgiveness. If anything the Bishop shows himself to be petty and unable to let go. Worrying about the dessert service after so long.
You are wrong here on important details. Matilda is obsessive about the Crown Derby dessert service as much or more than the Bishop. He tries to make peace, but she punishes him by releasing the cook. And of course he won’t thank her, he got a leopard in his room and a watery soup.