Thomas Wolfe's The Child by Tiger

Thomas Wolfe's The Child by Tiger

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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 children. Who would like him though the eyes of a child?

Several references made by Spangler animate Prosser's cat-like features by describing his hand as a "great black paw" (Page 625). Later several references are made showing qualities of swiftness, to his red eyes when he becomes angry, and even him pacing like a cat on the front porch of Pansy's house. All qualities that a cat would show Dick Prosser are showing too. Spangler tells in this story, "He was there upon you sometimes like a cat" (Page 627) when describing his swiftness. Throughout this story, it is implied he is like a swift and large tiger. His character is surely like a cat when described as "Looking before us, sometimes, seeing nothing but the world before us, suddenly we felt a shadow at out backs and, looking up, would find that Dick was there." (Page 627) Dick's qualities are described as if he were a cat on the prowl sneaking up on something from out of nowhere. This description of him is as if he acts like a cat that is quietly stalking a mouse just before the cat pounces on the mouse because the mouse does not hear the cat.

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Yet Prosser turns from good person to bad when he goes wild for no apparent reason described in this story. It leaves you wondering what happened to make him lose his mind and go on a shooting rampage. Spangler goes from one extreme to the next describing Prosser as a great man, whom the children thought could do anything, to a man who seems to have lost it and goes awry in the town, taking down anyone who gets in his way with his rifle. Prosser is described to have read his Bible faithfully and would sing gospel songs that showed his gentleness, but when he shot Pansy's husband in the back of the head seems to prove otherwise. Going crazy throughout the town shooting, not really shooting just anyone in particular, but shooting anyone that got in his way. Spangler tells, "An old Negro man stuck out his ancient head of cotton wool, Dick swiveled and shot casually from his hip. The shot tore the top of the old Negro's head off." (Page 637) This only proves he didn't have anyone in particular that was his main target and that he was just taking anyone out that might have caused danger to him whether it was a fact or not.

Who would not like Dick Prosser? He loved the children and made them think he could do anything. His swiftness and cat-like features are displayed throughout the story, so much so, that he is easily believed to almost be a tiger. He goes from showing religious qualities to almost a trapped animal gone wild trying to shoot his way out of town, but Spangler finds it hard to believe that Dick has gone badly. What has happened to make Dick snap, it is up to the reader to conclude?
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