Child By Tiger Literary Anal Essay, Research Paper
An unknown source once wrote, For evil to succeed it is sufficient that good men do nothing . This quote ties into the theme of The Child By Tiger , written by Thomas Wolfe. The Child By Tiger leaves its readers with proof that evil and innocence are in every aspect of life. Thomas Wolfe develops this theme through his use of a child s perspective, character development, setting and symbols. Thomas Wolfe uses these elements to portray a powerful message that a reader cannot forget.
The Child By Tiger is a story about a black man, Dick Prosser. Dick was the Shepperton s man as they called him. He always knew how to do everything, from boxing to football. The children in the neighborhood found him to be a friend and a mentor who taught them more than just skills, he taught them about life. On a cold winter night Dick went to Pansy Harris house, another servant within the town. Pansy s husband arrived at home and a fight broke out and Dick shot Pansy s husband. When police arrived on the scene Dick shot them promptly and began running through the town. Dick continued to shoot people that tried to stop him, until the posse of men from the town surrounded him. Dick dropped his weapon and was shot 330 times and then brought into town to put on display.
Wolfe tells this story of obviously adult content through the perspective of a child. Wolfe does this to illustrate the theme, it shows the innocence and the evil within the mind and heart of a child. In the beginning of the story we see the admiration that the narrator holds for Dick, He knew about football too, and today he paused, a powerful, respectable- looking Negro man . . .and watched us play (Perrine, 25). A reader can see the excitement and enthusiasm that only a child can hold for his role model in this quotation. Using this child s perspective the reader finds it easy to believe the narrator in most everything he says. The narrator is pure in his thoughts; after all he is a child. The mind of a child can be easily affected by the thoughts of others, which is shown in the way the children act once Dick is killed. They immediately develop a hate for the man they once considered great and wonderful, We saw it[Dick s dead body] and tried wretchedly to make ourselves believe that once this thing had spoken to us gently, had been partner to our confidence, object of our affection and respect . . .and we were sick with nausea and fear (Perrine, 37). Through this quotation one can see how the narrator s thoughts changed within an instant because of one event. This sudden change of heart is amplified by the fact that it is a child holding these thoughts. Through life one learns to judge a situation using all the facts, but a child s mind is not capable of that. The perspective of a child leads back to the theme, there is both good and evil in everything that is perceived. Even a child cannot escape the evil of the world and yet that child is innocent.
Using the child s perspective Wolfe develops Dick s character, a character that was respected for good reasons and then forgotten on the account of one event. Dick was portrayed as a gentle and religious man. He read his Bible very night. Everyone in the town was proud of Dick, we were all so proud of him. Mr. Shepperton had said himself he was the best man he had ever had. . . the best man he had ever known (Perrine , 26). Mixed into the descriptions of the gentle, pure, and kind Dick there was always another description lying in the shadows:
He went too softly, at too swift a pace. He was there upon you
sometimes like a cat. Looking before us, sometimes, seeing nothing
but the world before us, suddenly we felt a shadow at our backs and,
looking up we would find Dick was there. And there was something
moving in the night. We never saw him come or go. Sometimes we
would waken startled, and feel that we had heard a board creak . . .
All was still(Perrine, 26).
This quotation reflects the theme directly, there is good and evil in everything one perceives. Dick had a character flaw, as do most people. The flaw was not that there was evil inside of him, but that other people saw it. Other people saw the way his eyes flashed red when he became angry. He always remained calm, but the anger was there. This can tie into the theme his evil and his good were both apparent at many times. His outside appearance reflected the man he was on the inside, he was strong. His military training was apparent in everything he did. His actions reflected the strict order that the military held him to and that he held himself to, He did it[split the kindling]with a power, a military order, that was astounding (Perrine, 25). This shows how Dick did exactly what he was taught to do because he thought that was right, he also killed many people because he thought he was doing the right thing. Dick did not perceive his actions as evil, but others did. Dick s character is reflective of the theme in that all things can possess good and evil.
The setting of the story seems relatively unimportant, but certain elements give great meaning to the story. At one point in the story there is said to be, a smell of smoke . . . burning in the air (Perrine 24). This smoke can represent how the town covered up it s flaws, like a blanket of smoke. It can also signify how the perceptions of Dick were masked like the air was masked. The boys could smell the smoke, but thought nothing of it. The boys held a suspicion for Dick, like in the instance where they saw the rifle, but never thought anything of it. On the night that the killings happened it snowed, Snow fell that night . . . by seven o clock the air was blind with sweeping snow, the earth was carpeted, the streets were numb (Perrine, 29). This quotation is very symbolic to the story, it can allude to the way in which the town reacted. The town was blind to the evil that Dick possessed. The town was carpeted or shielded by the image of a humane man that Dick held. The town was numb with fear and disappointment for Dick because of his actions. They didn t know what to think or how to act. The snow also coved up Dick s footprints, hiding what he didn t want seen. The snow is both good and evil, depending on which character in the story is telling the story. The other piece of setting that is significant to the story is Dick s room. It is described as, His little whitewashed basement room was as spotless as a barracks room. The bare floor was always cleanly swept. . . and in the center of the room. . . just one object: an old Bible worn out by constant use (Perrine, 25). This description of Dick s bare room can represent Dick s character. He was clean, like the room and polished on the outside. He seemed plain and simple and pure, like his white room. In the center of Dick s room lay a bible, as in the center of his heart. The setting again relates to the theme in that there is good within all things, just as there is evil.
Symbolism within the story is highly evident, as seen through the elements of setting. One major symbol in the story is the constant reference to the tiger. The story begins with an excerpt from a poem, Tiger, tiger burning bright/ In the forests of the night/ What immortal hand or eye/ Could frame thy fearful symmetry? (Perrine, 24). This poem fits with the title, The Child By Tiger and symbolizes the ever present theme of everything holding both elements of good and evil within. The title can be interpreted to again represent the theme, the child shows the innocence in all things and the tiger shows the beast. The poem symbolizes the good and evil within the tiger. The tiger possesses a fearful symmetry that cannot be duplicated. The tiger provokes fear into the hearts of men, by solely his presence. He is not evil in his actions, yet he is perceived as evil. This conveys the theme once again, evil is in everything, as is good, but the beholder only sees what he or she perceives. Another strong symbol is the Bible verses that Dick left sitting on the table:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh
me lie down in green pastures: he leadth me beside still
waters. He restorth my soul: he leadth me in the path s of
righteousness for his name s sake. Yea, though I walk through
the valley of shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for though art
with me (Perrine, 39).
Theses passages from the Bible can be a reason for why Dick acted the way he did, which again reiterates the theme. The Bible is a sacred book of God s teachings, and yet Dick had these verses in his head as he killed people. There is a symbolism in the way Dick acted, first he did not stop running from the posse until he reached the river, the still water. When he reached the water he dropped his weapon and stood knowing that he was going to be killed, He stood up like a soldier, erect, and . . . faced the mob (Perrine, 37). This alludes to the bible verse, that in the face of death he did not fear because he believed God was at his side. These symbols along with those used in the setting illustrate Wolfe s theme in showing the good and evil that all things possess.
Thomas Wolfe writes a story that makes his readers muse about human nature. He created a story that conveyed a constant and strong theme through the point of view, character development, setting and symbolism. The Child By Tiger displays a theme that evil and good are ever present in every aspect of life. There is no pure good or pure evil; there is only the perspective that a person sees the situation as.
-Works Cited -
Wolfe, Thomas. The Child By Tiger , Literature, Sound and Sense. 5th Edition. Lawrence Perrine, editor. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1988: pages 24-40.