Sredni Vashtar

by

Saki

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Houdan Hen Symbol Analysis

Houdan Hen Symbol Icon

Like the toast, the Houdan hen is another symbol in “Sredni Vashtar” of something pleasurable and lively that the soul-crushingly middle-class Mrs. De Ropp is intent on getting rid of. While the toast is a sensory pleasure, the Houdan hen represents the pleasures of the imagination and is the canvas onto which Conradin paints one of his most elaborate fantasies. While the Houdan hen doesn’t become part of the cult of Sredni Vashtar (a pagan religion Conradin invents that stands in direct opposition to Mrs. De Ropp’s stodgy church-going), Conradin makes it clear that the hen is not like Mrs. De Ropp. Conradin decides the hen is an Anabaptist, and while Conradin doesn’t know what that means, he hopes it’s not something respectable like his cousin. (Anabaptists are a Christian religious movement that broke away from the mainline Christian religions dominant in much of Europe at the time, so Conradin’s choice, while humorously uniformed, is actually fairly accurate.) Ultimately, what pushes Conradin from privately detesting his cousin to actively praying for her downfall is the moment when Mrs. De Ropp secretly sells the Houdan hen and informs him about it the next day. Mrs. De Ropp tries to extinguish what the Houdan hen represents—the imagination and the rebelliousness—and while she’s successful at first, her death at the hands of Sredni Vashtar suggests that her attempts to repress Conradin’s imagination have literally come back to bite her.

Houdan Hen Quotes in Sredni Vashtar

The Sredni Vashtar quotes below all refer to the symbol of Houdan Hen. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Cambridge University Press edition of Sredni Vashtar published in 2018.
Sredni Vashtar Quotes

The Houdan hen was never drawn into the cult of Sredni Vashtar. Conradin had long ago settled that she was an Anabaptist. He did not pretend to have the remotest knowledge as to what an Anabaptist was, but he privately hoped that it was dashing and not very respectable. Mrs De Ropp was the ground plan on which he based and detested all respectability.

Related Characters: Conradin, Sredni Vashtar, Mrs. De Ropp
Related Symbols: Houdan Hen
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:
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Houdan Hen Symbol Timeline in Sredni Vashtar

The timeline below shows where the symbol Houdan Hen appears in Sredni Vashtar. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Sredni Vashtar
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
British Colonialism Theme Icon
...on his own. Two real, living animals also inhabit the toolshed. One is a ragged-looking Houdan hen (a French breed of chicken with white or black-and-white feathers), which Conradin lavishes with affection.... (full context)
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
In Conradin’s imagination, the Houdan hen doesn’t join the cult of Sredni Vashtar. He decides she is an Anabaptist. Conradin has... (full context)
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
British Colonialism Theme Icon
...be spending so much time there, so at breakfast one morning, she announces that the Houdan hen was sold and taken away overnight. As she says this, she looks at Conradin, waiting... (full context)
Imagination vs. Reality Theme Icon
Religion Theme Icon
British Colonialism Theme Icon
...De Ropp notices that his visits to the tool shed haven’t stopped, even after the Houdan hen was sold. One day, she goes inside the shed to investigate and finds the locked... (full context)