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In this, one of Saki’s most enigmatic short stories, Conradin is a child who is emotionally neglected, not just because he is an orphan, but also because his guardian and cousin, Mrs. De Ropp, is clearly tired of him. Conradin is also sickly.
Conradin was ten years old, and the doctor had pronounced his professional opinion that the boy would not live another five years.
This basically shows that his life, as short as it is and will be, has been a pretty rotten deal for him.
The author effectively portrays Conradin’s feelings by illustrating the way that he visualized life, as a whole. Basically, Conradin sees very little positive in his life and, as a result, he resorts to his imagination to make something out of what he does see. In Conradin’s world
…three-fifths of the world […] are necessary and disagreeable and real; the other two-fifths, in perpetual antagonism to the foregoing, were summed up in himself and his imagination.
Another way that the author effectively conveys the emotions of the boy is by presenting his situation. His life is extremely lonely, boring, and isolated. He needs his imagination essentially in order not to go insane…but, does he?
When he singlehandedly transforms the reality of religious worship, the only thing he does in common with his cousin, into his own version, he is basically showing signs that something is not well in his mind. The use of the ferret as a symbol of adoration shows a misplaced need for hope, and a misguided hunger for faith.
It is one thing to use the imagination to create one’s own gods and angels. It is a very different thing to replace the gods and angels with substitutes that clearly do not possess any powers. This is how Conradin shows that he has lost all hope in the world around him and, as a result, he will replace and switch everything all around.
All of this is done through both direct and indirect characterization. In the direct characterization, Saki describes these emotions exactly as they occur in Conradin’s life. In indirect characterization, he illustrates the child’s feelings through his actions.
The author also conveys effectively the climactic moment when Mrs. De Ropp enters the hutch to retrieve Conradin’s “god,” which she believes could be guinea pigs.
…he knew as he prayed that he did not believe. He knew that the Woman would come out presently with that pursed smile he loathed so well on her face, and that in an hour or two the gardener would carry away his wonderful god, a god no longer, but a simple brown ferret in a hutch.
Saki describes in detail the emotions of the child by evoking his past with the cousin, one in which she would always punish him for his actions and feel “victorious” about it. He just wanted one victory for himself before everything is over. If life as it is happens to be unbearable, and death is his only other option; why also take away his only vestige of hope, the only thing he could be truly in control of?
And he knew that the Woman, would triumph always as she triumphed now, and that he would grow ever more sickly under her pestering and domineering and superior wisdom, till one day nothing would matter much more with him, and the doctor would be proved right.
It is during this moment of desperation, that climax of what there is to come, that Conradin releases his grip and chants desperately for something to go his way, for his “god” to do something for him.
And in the sting and misery of his defeat, he began to chant loudly and defiantly the hymn of his threatened idol.
This shows that Saki uses the third person point of view as omniscient and subjective. He goes in and out of the emotions of the character, particularly those of the child. He presents us with the “context” of his life: one of loneliness, neglect, and hopelessness. To this, he adds that his character has one shred of hope in his ferret pet. Having this one object removed from Conradin evokes in the reader fear and anger. The cathartic ending then brings everything to a full circle and, through a tragedy, we almost find relief for Conradin. All this, while tragic, is an effective way to vicariously take the reader through the emotions of a very sad kid.