Compare and contrast Saki’s characterizations of masters and servants in “Tobermory.”
The story mainly focuses on the actions of the masters of the house. However, in this story the masters, typically at the top of the social hierarchy, become extremely anxious about the prospect that the servants will learn of their improprieties. When Lady Blemley shoos Tobermory from the room Mrs. Cornett immediately objects, exclaiming “‘Adelaide! … [Do] you mean to encourage that cat to go out and gossip about us in the servants’ hall?’” (94). Similarly, while the masters become increasingly frantic as the night continues, the servants remain calm and composed perhaps because they have little at risk as regards reputation and status.
Explain the role of morality in the story.
Many of the characters appear quite concerned with presenting a version of themselves that is polite and moral. When Tobermory begins disclosing the guest’s secrets, including slanderous gossip, they repeatedly deny ever speaking negatively about one another. However, the party guests quickly abandon their mores when Tobermory threatens to share their secrets. Instead, they quickly volunteer lies, attempt bribery, and ultimately conspire to kill not only Tobermory but also the stable cat he befriends. Saki’s indictment of the party guests as being wiling to make moral compromises to protect their own reputations aligns with his general indictment of Edwardian society as being shallow and hypocritical.
Explain the role of power dynamics in the story.
“Tobermory” begins with a familiar and traditional distribution of power, which is closely tied to status and reputation. As host of the party Lady Blemley holds power of invitation. She decides who is included in the engagement based on reputation. For example, Lady Blemley invites Mr. Appin because he is rumored to be clever. The servants on the other hand exist mainly in the background to wait on the party guests and seem to be the only humans who remain composed in the wake of Tobermory’s new skill.
Describe how Tobermory inverts power dynamics in the story.
Tobermory begins as a relatively powerless house pet. Since the story takes place in a setting in which power is closely tied to status and reputation, Tobermory gains power with the ability to verbalize facts that would threaten the statuses and reputations of the party guests. Furthermore, Tobermory uses his voice to make a servant out of his own 'master’ when he verbally requests that Lady Blemley fill his bowl. Tobermory demonstrates how easy it can be to topple the social order of a society that falsely insists on its own morality and superiority.
How does Saki characterize women in the story?
Saki frequently characterizes women as gossips who display ‘catty’ behaviors. In “Tobermory” Saki is consistent in this representation of women. Tobermory shares with the entire party the gossip Lady Blemley and others engaged in when they believed themselves to be speaking privately. In contrast, Major Barfield tries to interrupt the women’s gossip by redirecting the conversation to Tobermory’s intimate affairs with the stable cat. Saki also commonly associates men with dogs, which explains why Major Barfield is interested in discussing Tobermory’s relationship with the stable cat.