by  Thomas Wolfe

  The story, “The Child By Tiger” written by Thomas Wolfe, is primarily interpretive literature, not escape literature. “Escape literature” is written purely for pleasure, while “interpretive literature” is written for pleasure and to help us understand the world around us. Interpretive literature educates, asks questions about life and presents some aspects of life that we may not want to face. “The Child by Tiger” is interpretive literature because of the way the author presents the story, the way it ends, the way it educates us, and especially how it helps us understand man’s darker nature.   This work is interpretive rather than escape literature because of the way the author presents the story. Thomas Wolfe has the protagonist looking back on the events that occurred twenty-five years earlier. Even though he has had a very long time to reflect on them, he is looking back in the hope that he can make some sense out of it all. The author uses this situation to his advantage. On the second page of the story where the author writes, “He had, he said, only recently received his discharge from the Army”, shows that the protagonist is second guessing what Dick Prosser had said. This reflective outlook is a good position from which to teach the audience. The reader learns about death the same way as the protagonist. This is an ideal way to catch the attention of the audience and to educate them at the same time as the protagonist, which is a characteristic of interpretive literature.   Another reason this story is interpretive is the way it ends. In “The Most Dangerous Game,” which is an example of escape literature, the reader is left with a playful ending and has the opportunity to decide if Rainsford becomes the hunter or if he just leaves. No such ending is left in “The Child by Tiger.”   In addition, the story does not end with the death of Dick Prosser. The author wants to impart a sense of the after-shock on the reader and introduces characters who brag about being part of the hunt, and the fact that Prosser underlined a particular portion of the Bible indicated that the act was premeditated and that Prosser knew that he would soon be “walking through the valley of death”. This real-life facet is a trait of interpretive literature. Since most escape literature has a happy ending and this does not, is additional proof that this is not escape literature.   Most importantly the story is interpretive because the author is trying to help us understand man’s darker side. From time to time we read about someone “flipping out” and killing a bunch of people. It happened recently in Dunblane, Scotland, and in Oklahoma City. When we ask ourselves why something like this happened, we are unable to answer. In our story, a young man of 30 goes insane and kills about 10 people. The author does not try to justify the act. What he does do is try to shed a little light on one of these situations. This illumination is the educative aspect of interpretive literature.   Another example of the educative aspect of interpretive literature is shown when the boys find the gun. Dick Prosser makes a secret pact with them. He promises to take them out to shoot it if they don’t tell anyone about it. The boys agree and in so doing they form a bond with Prosser. This act is a lesson about man’s “darker” side and how it allows him to use his friendship to keep from getting caught. This teaching process is a trait of interpretive literature.   The next example of man’s darker side is the end of Dick Prosser’s life. After Dick had expended all of his ammo, he threw away his gun, sat down and removed his shoes. At this point there was no reason to kill him. The townspeople could have captured him and brought him into town. Instead, they shot him and even after he was dead, continued to shoot him; they shot him 300 times. This is morbid but it shows man’s darker side. Laurence Perrine, in Story and Structure, states that interpretive literature “helps us understand our troubles.” In “The Child by Tiger” we are trying to understand the troubles of mankind.   “The Child by Tiger” by Thomas Wolfe, is interpretive literature because of the way it is presented, the way it ends, and what it teaches about man’s darker side.  

A Synopsis of Lasting Themes Found in “The Child by Tiger”

In Thomas Wolfe’s carefully constructed short story, “The Child by Tiger,” excerpts from William Blake’s poem “Tiger” and the King James Bible enrich the central themes of the plot. Although “The Child by Tiger” is very cryptic in revealing its purpose, several important concepts may be inspected to aid the reader in discovering Wolfe’s meaning. The stirring first stanza of “Tiger,” chosen by Wolfe to precede his story, braces the reader for the darker imagery to follow. The vivid words of Blake’s poem are put to work as underlying themes in “The Child by Tiger,” including images of darkness, shadows, fear, and the fire-like burn of the tiger’s eye that haunts the rest of the plot. It is in this imagery that perhaps Wolfe’s primary theme is founded: what is human nature and what are its capabilities for both good and evil? The character Dick Prosser is upon introduction a deeply religious, gentle, and multi-talented man. Almost immediately in the story, Wolfe begins a consistent reference to Dick as very cat-like in nature, drawing on his cunning prowess, speed, and agility. It can thus be gathered that the tiger illustrated in Blake’s poem is symbolic of Dick. . . .
He met death with no fear, showing the same indifference to his own demise as when he calming killed so many of the townspeople. Did Wolfe purposely include this excerpt to chart Dick’s transformation, or was it rather a satire on the hypocrisy possessed by man? Following the passage of the Bible very closely, Dick emerges from the dark forest much like the dark tiger in Blake’s poem, and makes his way across the pasture farmland and stops before the river to face death. ” Thomas Wolfe certainly made a point of crafting for his short story a purpose that could be concealed behind many symbols and cryptic themes. Comparing basic human nature to that of an animal, it is much easier to relate to Dick feeling trapped. Upon the narrator’s discovery of the open Bible passage after Dick’s violent death, his massacre no longer seems unprovoked or spontaneous. Either way, the excerpt from Exodus eliminates all possibility that Dick simply began his spree because he was a “crazy nigger. Thus develops the author’s lasting theme. Dick Prosser was alive in both the poem and the psalm, and as Wolfe forged his character into shadowy and grizzled detail, it can be inferred that perhaps we, or a hidden part within us, also dwell in such darkness. Night, darkness, and shadows emerge as crucial themes, once again drawing their power from the introductory stanza from “Tiger. His use of William Blake’s “Tiger” and the psalm from the Bible were chosen for their symbolic imagery and lasting impression upon the reader. Comparing Dick to a shadow or something “moving in the night,” both disturbs the reader and causes one to question first impressions. Symbols from the excerpt taken out of Exodus are again very cryptic. The events that follow in the narration of Dick’s final days is so sudden, and ends so abruptly that Wolfe’s purpose is lost somewhere between South Dean Street and the undertaking parlor. The narrator paints an illustrious image of Dick Prosser in the early stages of the story, creating an instant admiration for what the reader first believes to be the protagonist; however, it is soon noted that Dick “went too softly, at too swift a pace”, marring the seemingly flawless character and casting a shadow of doubt over the almost-hero.

Common topics in this essay:

Dick Prosser, Child Tiger, Comparing Dick, Referring Tiger, Dick Prossers, Thomas Wolfe, Blakes Tiger, Dean Street, James Bible, Thomas Wolfes, dick prosser, human nature, blakes poem, child tiger, short story, stanza tiger, excerpt exodus, darkness shadows, william blakes,   The Force of Evil

“And something had come to life…It was a kind of shadow,
a poisonous blackness filled with bewildered loathing.
…something hateful and unspeakable
in the souls of men.”

An apparent introduction is made in the three works, The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell, The Child by Tiger by Thomas Wolfe, and The Destructors by Graham Greene; the unwelcome but necessary introduction to the sinful nature of mankind, to evil without limits, and without cause. When confronted with the presence of evil around them, the characters react in very different ways. A few triumph, one just stands in awe.
In The Most Dangerous Game Mr. Rainsford, at first, tries to shrug off a fellow sailor’s belief of a nearby ‘dark’ island by saying “Pure imagination . . . One superstitious sailor can taint the whole ship’s company with his fear.” The sailor replies with haunting faith, “Sometimes I think evil is a tangible thing – with wavelengths, just as sound and light have. An evil place can, so to speak, broadcast vibrations of evil.” When Rainsford comes to believe the crucial meaning of his friends’ words, it is too late; he is already in the midst of the very place that was spoken of.

Appalled at first, by faced with no other choice than to confront the very source of evil, General Zaroff, face to face, Rainsford realizes the danger of his position and takes what he is dealt right in stride. He was now the wanted prey of the most dangerous of hunters.   Difference in Character in Child by Tiger and Most Dangerous Game

In Thomas Wolfe’s “The Child by Tiger,” the character Dick Prosser is clearly more credible than General Zaroff in Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.” This plausibility is due to each character’s lifestyle, murder motives, and personal morals. The difference in the characters is very dramatic.

Foremost, how and where one lives tell much about a person. General Zaroff appears to be living in an almost make-believe world. He has bought an island and made his home there. When Rainsford, another character in the short story, reaches the island, he begins looking for lights. Connell describes, “He came upon them as he turned a crook in the coast line, and his first thought was that he had come upon a village, for there were many lights” (11). Today, it would be ludicrous for a man to own an island all by himself. Conversely, Dick Prosser lives more realistically. He lives in a basement room of a home belonging to a white The Child’s Hidden Tiger
In the short story The Child by Tiger, Thomas Wolfe portrays mans dark side through the unexpected madness of the seemingly good-natured Dick Prosser and the actions taken by the town people. This story is set in an era when people believed race determined the moral character of a person. Many viewed blacks as social outcast and hence the cause of most crimes. This is true to the extent that African Americans were committing a large number of petty crimes, but were they really the cause. Many factors play into determining a cause, and in this case it is quite evident that the social conditions in which African Americans were forced to live in contributed to there social behavior. However, can these pressures push a man to mental madness and drive him towards mass murder? It is not just to say that he is without fault, but it is true to say that, the coldness of one man will decrease the warmth of another. The story gives us a glimpse of Dick’s life a short period before the climax. We are left to probe clues and use our imagination and intuition to come to a personal conclusion of why Dick committed mass murder.
The time in which the story takes place was a period of severe racial discrimination especially toward Blacks. The most prevalent attitude toward African Americans was that they were somehow inferior to the whites. This is evident by the referral of Dick as the “Shepperton’s Negro man” (Wolfe 24). “Mr. Shepperton himself
Tyger! Tyger! burning bright

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

This is the first stanza of William Blake’s famous poem, “The Tyger” which is also featured as the opening paragraph in “The Child by Tiger”, a short story by Thomas Wolfe. In the narrative, a seemingly kind, gentle, and religious African American male named Dick Prosser goes on a vicious rampage after drinking excessively and getting in a fight with his love interest’s husband (Wolfe 735). At the end of the story, a large mob made up of vengeful White people seeking justice against the “crazed Negro” tracks him down to a riverbank, where Dick awaits them with his shoes at his side and a firearm squeezed dry of ammunition (739). His stalkers gun him down, hang his lifeless body from a tree, pump him full of 300 bullets, and take his mutilated corpse back to down where he is hung in an undertaker’s display window for all to see and enjoy (739). What one may not realize while begin to read this story, is that the excerpt from the Blake poem that precedes th… The opening stanzas from William Blake’s poem “The Tiger” in “The Child By Tiger” by Thomas Wolfe help accentuate the theme of the story. They further relate to the passage in which Dick Prosser’s bible was left open to. The stanzas incorporated in the story reveal that with every good is evil.
“The Child By Tiger” inlays a sense of good with evil tailing it as its shadow. In the beginning, Blake’s stanza questions “…who could frame thy fearful symmetry?” Dick Prosser appears to be kind and moral, but later reveals his vengeful side as he chaotically kills people. His conflicts with society inspire the evil to spring forward and divulge himself. The reference to “tiger!” in Blake’s stanza indirectly relates to the fact that Prosser is referred to as a cat through Wolfe’s story. Prosser’s evil self is illustrated as stealthily and smartly stalking his prey; pretending to be the same amongst the others. This evil, Prosser himself, exhibits tendencies of moral goodness as he tries to suppress his situational conflict. Evil stalks a prey smartly; it takes notice of every slight move, and every attempt to through it off fails because it always lands back on its feet.
Prosser was a very religious man; he had a bible that he constantly read and was worn from use. The last passage marked as read insinuates that Prosser’s death was destined. He was made to “lie down” in wait, and see what he could spread his “dread grasp” on. His role was to act as everyone else because his evil self was stalking the others. Prosser was the “deadly terrors” everyone ran from, for he was on “the path of righteousness for his name’s sake.” He was meant for the town to see the evil that it can create. All Prosser was, was a marionette controlled by the citizens.
Blake’s poem relates to the standard of evil that the world creates. Prosser is found out to be bound toward evil as the tiger in the eye of god. What ultimately comes from this is that evil is innate it anyone, it is just that the good is harbored to be shown as best as it can. In the fictional short story “The Child by Tiger” no event occurs with out purpose. Authors of fictional short stories have to produce a well-read piece without any excess information or events. Thomas Wolfe was no exception to this rule. He demonstrated a serious fictional short story without any overflow of information or detail. An act of violence in a story provides suspense, drama, mystery, and other specific advantages. Wolfe also displays the result of violent acts, especially in small towns. In “The Child by Tiger” Dick’s violent act seems both shocking and surprising, but offers and excellent gateway to wrap up the end of a story.
The violent act of Dick Prosser, the Shepperton’s servant presents the story with a great crescendo of conflict and suspense. This kind, gentle, respectful man changed suddenly into a cold-blooded killer. The purpose of this violence in the story was to show the reader the need for Dick to be free. Literally, he was free, but because of his position as the Shepperton’s “Negro man” he was not. He even went as far as to kill people just so he could live his own life.

Without the author’s use of violence Dick’s point would not be made as boldly. If he had talked to Mr. Shepperton about his desire to live his own life, it would not have made such an impression on the readers as it did when he became violent. Also, if Dick did in fact speak to Mr. Shepperton about his desire to live his own life and if it was granted to him the story would h… [to view the full essay now, purchase below]  

In Thomas Wolfe’s The Child by Tiger (reprinted in Thomas R. Arp and Greg Johnson, Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound, and Sense, 9th ed. [Boston: Wadsworth, 2006] Page 625). The story as told through the eyes of a child will show many different ways to view Dick Prosser, the main character, as a man. The child Spangler shows how the children feel about Prosser, how he resembles a cat and how he turns from a good person to bad.

Prosser is a big man who is admired by the children. As a black man, he is a servant of one of the children but is loved by all the children. He is an excellent shot and shows the children his great marksmanship with a small rifle of one of the children. The children make Prosser sound great because they build him up by how gentle he is with them. The children think of Dick as quoted in the story, ” There was nothing he did not know.” (Page 627) Teaching them to play football, to make a fire, and even how to box makes him to them seem larger than life. It is easy to like Prosser because of the time he spends with chil…


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