Ulrich’s rifle brings the potential for death into the story’s first sentence, and the threat of death lasts for the duration of the story. Initially, Ulrich and Georg think murdering the other would be victory. Yet, when given the brief chance to shoot the other, both men hesitate, showing that the potential to kill feels different, and perhaps more difficult, once it becomes real.
After a large tree falls on the men, and they both face the near, real possibility of death, Ulrich’s hatred for Georg “dies down.” The imminence of death changes Ulrich’s priorities. He decides that life is worth more than winning a property dispute. Georg agrees to become Ulrich’s friend, showing that the near-death experience has also reset his values. Ulrich and Georg begin to see rescuing the other from death as an opportunity for graciousness. They each hope that their respective hunting party will come, so that their men can save, instead of kill, the other.
However, although the relationship between the men has changed, it does not help either of them to move the tree off of the other. Wolves, instead of a rescue party, appear over the hill in response to Ulrich and Georg’s shared call to their men. Trapped beneath the tree, Ulrich and Georg will not be able to fend of the wolves. In the story’s opening the men believe that owning the land will give them power. Their near-death experience shows them it does not matter, but even this realization is not enough to prevent the approach of death. The story’s ending suggests that death will come no matter one’s status in or understanding of the world.
Death Quotes in The Interlopers
The roebuck, which usually kept in the sheltered hollows during a storm-wind, were running like driven things to-night, and there was movement and unrest among the creatures that were wont to sleep through the dark hours. Assuredly there was a disturbing element in the forest...
If only on this wild night, in this dark, lone spot, he might come across Georg Znaeym, man to man, with none to witness - that was the wish that was uppermost in his thoughts.
But a man who has been brought up under the code of a restraining civilisation cannot easily nerve himself to shoot down his neighbour in cold blood and without word spoken, except for an offence against his hearth and honour.
We fight this quarrel out to the death, you and I and our foresters, with no cursed interlopers to come between us. Death and damnation to you, Ulrich von Gradwitz.
Both men spoke with the bitterness of possible defeat before them, for each knew that it might be long before his men would seek him out or find him; it was a bare matter of chance which party would arrive first on the scene.
In the pain and languor that Ulrich himself was feeling the old fierce hatred seemed to be dying down.
Lying here to-night thinking I've come to think we've been rather fools; there are better things in life than getting the better of a boundary dispute.
"Who are they?" asked Georg quickly, straining his eyes to see what the other would gladly not have seen.