Child By Tiger Literary Analysis Essay, Research Paper
This quote from an unknown source states that immorality can prevail if good people choose to do nothing. It relates to the theme of Thomas Wolfe’s story, The Child By Tiger. The story demonstrates that both evil and innocence exist in every aspect of life. Wolfe conveys this theme through the perspective of a child, the growth of characters, the setting, and symbolic elements. By utilizing these aspects, Wolfe delivers a profound message that readers will remember.
“The Child By Tiger” tells the story of Dick Prosser, an African American man highly esteemed in Shepperton. He excelled in various tasks and was beloved by the neighborhood children who saw him as a friend and wise mentor. Not only did he teach practical skills, but also imparted valuable life lessons. One winter night, Dick visited Pansy Harris, a town resident employed as a servant. Tragically, Pansy’s husband returned home leading to a violent altercation where Dick shot him. When the police arrived, Dick swiftly retaliated by shooting at them before fleeing through the town. In his escape attempt, he harmed anyone who tried to stop him until ultimately being surrounded by townspeople. Cornered, Dick surrendered his weapon and was subsequently shot 330 times. Later on, his lifeless body was displayed in Shepperton.
Wolfe uses the perspective of a child to narrate a story with significant implications, showcasing the innocence and moral complexity within a young individual’s mind. At the outset of the narrative, the narrator expresses admiration for Dick, a knowledgeable and impressive African American man who watches them play football. This quote exemplifies the enthusiasm and reverence that only a child can possess towards their role model. By utilizing the viewpoint of a child, the narrator becomes more believable in what they say. As a child, their thoughts are pure and susceptible to external influence, as evidenced by the way their attitude towards Dick changes after his death. The children develop an instant hatred for the man they once held in high regard, feeling sick and afraid upon seeing his lifeless body. This sudden shift in mindset is even more powerful due to it being expressed through the thoughts of a child.As one goes through life, they learn to assess situations based on all available facts. However, a child’s mind is not capable of such judgment. A child’s perspective acknowledges the existence of both good and evil in everything they perceive. Even though a child cannot escape the immorality of the world, they remain innocent.
Wolfe develops Dick’s character from a child’s perspective, showcasing his admirable qualities and his significance in history. Dick is portrayed as a gentle and spiritual man, known for his devout Bible reading at night. The entire town takes pride in Dick’s virtues, expressing their admiration for him. Even Mr. Shepperton himself claims Dick to be the best man he has ever known (Perrine, 26). Amidst the portrayal of Dick’s gentle and pure nature, there are always hints of another side to his character lurking in the shadows.
He went very quietly and quickly, at a fast pace. He was right in front of you.
At times, we resemble a cat, both vigilant and observant. We gaze ahead, occasionally finding nothing in sight.
However, just as we were experiencing the universe before us, we suddenly sensed a presence looming behind us.
When we looked up, we noticed that Dick was at that location. And there was something.
Traveling in the dark, we never saw him arrive or depart. Sometimes we…
Startled and alert, we would suddenly hear a creaking board, creating an unexpected experience.
All was quiet according to Perrine (26).
This citation reflects the idea that every person has both good and evil within them. Dick had a character flaw, like most people do. The flaw was not that he had evil inside him, but that other people could see it. Others noticed how his eyes turned red when he became angry, even though he always remained calm. This connects to the theme that his immorality and goodness were both apparent at different times. His outward appearance reflected the man he was inside – strong. His military training was evident in all his actions. He acted with a strict discipline that was impressive, reflecting the order of the military that he adhered to and that he imposed on himself. He executed tasks with a power and precision that was astonishing (Perrine, 25). This demonstrates how Dick followed what he was taught because he believed it was right, even though it also led him to kill many people.
Dick’s actions were not perceived as immoral by Dick himself, but others disagreed. The character of Dick reflects the idea that everything has both good and evil aspects.
The narrative’s setting may appear inconsequential, but certain aspects bear great importance. For instance, the mention of a fume odor in the air represents how the town conceals its flaws like a smokescreen and symbolizes Dick’s masked perceptions. Despite smelling the smoke, the boys paid little attention to it. They harbored suspicions about Dick when they saw his rifle but never acted upon them. On the night of the killings, heavy snowfall occurred: “Snow fell that night…by seven o’clock the air was blind with sweeping snow, the Earth was carpeted, the streets were asleep” (Perrine 29). This quote signifies how ignorant and shielded from evil the town was due to Dick’s façade as a humane man. The townspeople were paralyzed with fear and disappointment towards Dick for his actions, unsure of how to think or behave. Furthermore, the snow covered up Dick’s footprints, concealing what he did not want others to see. Depending on who narrates the story, this snow can be perceived as both good and evil. Another significant setting is Dick’s room—a small whitewashed cellar room resembling a barracks in terms of cleanliness. The floor is always impeccably swept and an old Bible shows signs of constant use as it remains the sole object in this space. This portrayal reflects Dick’s character; he appears clean and polished on the outside too.He has a straightforward and pure demeanor, similar to the simplicity of his white room. The Bible positioned at the center holds symbolic meaning as it reflects its significance in his heart. This scene reinforces the concept that both goodness and wickedness coexist within everything.
The use of symbolism is clearly evident throughout the narrative, specifically through the prominent representation of the tiger. The narrative opens with a quote from Perrine’s poem titled “Tiger, tiger burning bright/ In the forests of the night/ What immortal hand or eye/ Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” This poem aligns with the title, “The Child By Tiger,” and symbolizes the recurring theme that both good and evil exist in all things. The title can also be interpreted as representing how innocence is embodied by the child while savagery is represented by the tiger. The poem serves to symbolize how both good and evil coexist within the tiger. The tiger possesses an unparalleled fearful symmetry that instills fear in people’s hearts merely through its presence. Even though its actions may not be inherently evil, it is perceived as such. This once again emphasizes that both good and evil are present in everything, but how they are seen depends on individual perception. Another significant symbol is represented by Dick leaving Bible verses on the table.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not desire. He makes
He makes me lie down in green grazing lands; he leads me beside still waters.
Waterss. He restorth my psyche: he leadth me in the way s of
Even when I walk through, righteousness for his name’s interest.
I will not fear death, for You are with me in the darkest times. You protect me from evil and guide me towards righteousness.
with me (Perrine, 39).
The thesis suggests that Dick’s behavior can be explained by referencing the Bible, which reinforces the overall theme. Although the Bible is a holy book containing God’s instructions, Dick had these scriptures in his mind as he committed acts of violence. There is symbolism in Dick’s actions – firstly, he continued running from the posse until he reached the still water of the river. When he reached the water, he let go of his weapon and stood, fully aware that he was going to be killed. He stood upright, like a soldier, and faced the crowd (Perrine, 37). This parallels a biblical poem that suggests that in the face of death, he did not feel fear because he believed that God was by his side. These symbols, as well as those used in the setting, serve to illustrate Wolfe’s theme of showcasing the presence of both good and evil in all things.
In The Child By Tiger, Thomas Wolfe’s narrative prompts contemplation on the complexities of human nature. He effectively portrays a timeless and powerful theme – the coexistence of good and evil in all aspects of life – through his use of point of view, character development, setting, and symbolism. In this story, absolute good or absolute evil do not exist; instead, it is the individual’s perspective that determines their perception of a situation.
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.