The Unkindest Blow by Saki (H.H. Munro)
In The Unkindest Blow by Saki we have the theme of unity, ego, privacy and gossip. 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 the reader realises that Saki may be exploring the theme of unity. The Zookeepers plan on going on strike and the political class fear that the animals will strike too as nobody but the Zookeepers know how to care for them. With some ego the First Lord of the Admiralty believes he can solve the problem but the reality is he knows nothing about caring for animals and is allowing for his ego to take over. The unity shown by the Zookeepers is also matched by the unity shown by the Duke and Duchess of Falvertoon. The Duke knows that a divorce will be no good for him and will only fed a frenzy in the press and cost him land and money.
This may be significant as Saki could be suggesting that the only winners in the Duke’s divorce will be the newspapers who will thrive on the secrets and gossip of the marriage. What would be a sad affair for the Duke and Duchess would end up being something happy for the newspapers. With people from all over the world arriving in London to hear the case. Something that displeases the Duke (and Duchess). They have no interest in being the centre of attention for an affair that could be brutal with secrets being revealed. As for the public, the press men know that the public want to hear about the divorce case. Just to get some insight into how other (higher class) people live.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The introduction of the Zookeepers strike acts as foreshadowing to the Duke and Duchess’ pending court case. The introduction of the First Lord of the Admiralty highlights how important the Zookeepers strike is but it also highlights how inadequate a person he is to tackle the strike. The fact that the Duke was such a bright boy lends the reader to believe that he will do the right thing in the end. That being calling off his divorce. He does not need the pressure that comes with a divorce and he knows that the press will paint a bad picture of him. The Duke is a man of intelligence and is only going to do something when he feels it is right.
The end of the story is interesting as the Duke does eventually decide to divorce the Duchess. Though he dies before proceedings can begin. This might be significant as by dying the Duke saves anybody discussing his private life. The country is in mourning and the public by all accounts are on the Duke’s side. No one will find out about the Duke’s marriage to the Duchess though the secrecy has come at a price. The Duke’s life. As for the Duchess she too can remain silent for she may very well have gotten what she wants, minus the Duke. There is no need for tell-tale stories to be told in court or another indiscretions in the marriage to be mentioned. The real winner in the story is the Duchess who has maintained her dignity throughout the story. She has given nothing away to anyone about how she feels and has inherited her husband’s fortune. She may have bought three dresses for the divorce trial but she has no need for them now. Just as she may have no need for the vast fortune she has inherited but she will remain content.