The Story-Teller by Saki (H.H. Munro)
In The Story-Teller by Saki we have the theme of morality, conflict, control, pride and humility. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is a frame narrative and after reading the story the reader realises that Saki may be exploring the theme of morality. Unlike the Aunt’s story which has a happy if not unrealistic ending the bachelor’s story highlights the realities of life. Though Bertha was a good girl. She has paid for that goodness with her life. Which may be the point that Saki is attempting to make. He could be suggesting that in real life things do not always go favourably for somebody just because they may have lived a good life. Which is very much the case for Bertha. It is also ironic that the reward she received for being good, the three medals, are in fact that cause of her being found by the wolf. With the wolf hearing them clinking in the garden. The fact that Bertha was also rewarded with a trip to the garden for being good is also ironic as should she not have been good she would have never have encountered the wolf.
In reality Saki may be highlighting that just because an individual may be good in life or contribute to life in a positive manner does not necessarily mean they will live a prosperous or rewarding life. Bertha after all was a young girl who despite being good does not attain longevity in life. She dies young despite being so good. There is also a sense that both the Aunt and the bachelor are in conflict with one another. Not so much as to tell the best story but the bachelor feels as though the Aunt is unable to control the three children. If anything it is the children who are controlling the Aunt. Something that the bachelor may be aware of and as such tells the story about Bertha in order to not only amuse the children but to regain control over them. Which he successfully manages to do. Much to the Aunt’s annoyance. It is as though she knows she has been beaten by the bachelor however she does not want to admit it. Hence her considering the story to be morally corrupt. Rather than being frightened by the story the children like it. This may be important as it is possible that the children consider the bachelor’s story to be more realistic than the Aunt’s story.
If anything Saki lifts the lid on society and reminds the reader that bad things can happen to good people. Something which is very true when it comes to Bertha. It is not as though Saki is suggesting that an individual shouldn’t be good. Instead he might be highlighting the realities of life. Living a good life does not necessarily mean that an individual will live their life without any negative consequences. The reality being that there is only so much of an individual’s life that can be controlled. Outside influences will always interfere with an individual’s development. Something the reader understands by the introduction of the wolf into the story. Though Bertha did nothing wrong. She still nonetheless dies. There is also a sense that Bertha is afraid to live her life. The flowers in the garden being an example. It would be only natural for a child to want to pick flowers from a garden. Yet Bertha promises her aunts that she won’t pick any. It is as though Bertha’s existence is being stifled by rules. She may not necessarily be living a full life despite being good. It may also be case that Bertha is chasing reward. Should she be good she knows that she will get a medal. Which would place her (in her eyes) above the other children who do not have as many medals.
It is also possible that Saki is exploring the theme of pride. Bertha is proud of her medals however as mentioned the medals are the very thing which results in the wolf catching Bertha. It is possible that Saki is suggesting that with pride comes a fall. Something that is clear to the reader by the fact that Bertha is killed by the wolf. Should she not have had the medals or have been as proud of herself. She would still be alive. If anything Bertha may not have had any humility in her life. Placing herself or allowing others to place her on a pedestal. Very much like how the Aunt places the girl in her story on a pedestal. It is also noticeable that the Aunt wants to protect the children while the bachelor wishes to highlight to the children what the world is really like. Though some critics might suggest that children should be kept in the dark about the negativities of life for as long as possible. This may not necessarily be something that is good for children. Saki most likely suggesting that children should be aware of the world around them. In reality children shouldn’t be hidden from the real world.