Mrs. Packletide wants to shoot a tiger. She is thrilled not at the idea of the hunt itself, but for the opportunity it provides to best her rival, Loona Bimberton. Loona has recently gained the attention of London’s high society after flying eleven miles in an airplane with an Algerian pilot. Mrs. Packletide is quite certain that she requires “a personally procured tiger-skin and a heavy harvest of press photographs” to steal the social limelight.
Mrs. Packletide’s character is primarily driven by the jealousy she feels towards fellow socialite, Loona Bimberton, who has recently gained the admiration of their London peers due to a remarkable airplane ride. Mrs. Packletide’s conviction that she needs to shoot a tiger to outdo Bimberton demonstrates the Edwardian upper-class tendency to exploit exotic cultures for selfish personal desires. Through Mrs. Packletide’s desire for numerous press photographs depicting her shoot, Saki also encapsulates Edwardian high society’s obsession with superficial appearance.
Mrs. Packletide can already imagine flaunting her success to London’s upper crust—she will host a luncheon, supposedly in Loona Bimberton’s honor, where her proudly displayed tiger-skin will be the talk of the party. Mrs. Packletide is even more gleeful as she considers sending a tiger-claw brooch to Loona Bimberton in order to drive home her social triumph. Mrs. Packletide’s every behavior can be attributed to her fierce animosity toward Loona Bimberton.
Saki undermines Mrs. Packletide’s character through her unscrupulous glee at imagining the social takedown of her rival Loona Bimberton. He paints Mrs. Packletide as almost animalistic in her satisfaction at the prospect of sending a special gift to Bimberton to ruthlessly emphasize her social triumph in stealing the limelight from her rival. Mrs. Packletide’s luncheon, supposedly for Bimberton, again calls attention to Edwardian high society’s vanity and artifice.
After offering a thousand rupees for the opportunity to shoot a tiger in India “without overmuch risk or exertion,” Mrs. Packletide is fortunate to find a village that offers an elderly and almost-tame tiger for the hunt. The tiger is no longer able to bring down wild game, instead preferring to prey on domestic animals, such as goats.
Saki ridicules Mrs. Packletide in her request to hunt a tiger without much risk or effort—the very opposite of the bravery that traditional big-game hunting signals. The tiger that the villagers offer for her to shoot is no apex predator, instead a meek creature that can no longer hunt wild game. The humans are more beastly in their cruel desires than the tamed animals the story describes.
The villagers are enthused by the promise of one thousand rupees and take care to ensure the tiger is kept with the village boundaries. Children keep watch at all hours to scare the big cat back if it tries to enter the jungle, and the villagers leave goats as easy meals for the tiger to consume. However, their most pressing concern is keeping the elderly creature alive until Mrs. Packletide arrives for the hunt—in order to let the pitiful tiger sleep peacefully, everybody goes about their daily life quietly.
The tiger’s frail existence is highlighted through the villagers’ fears that it will not live the few days until Mrs. Packletide arrives for the hunt. Saki again calls attention to the hierarchal relationship between humans and animals—while the villagers plot to manage the tiger until it can be shot by a paying customer, this tiger is not a danger to humankind. Mrs. Packletide’s promised payment, an exorbitant fee, highlights the absurdity of Edwardian upper-class pretension in desiring to travel the globe for a fictional experience.
The night of the shoot arrives, “moonlit and cloudless.” Mrs. Packletide and her paid companion, Louisa Mebbin, have arrived in the village and are waiting for the tiger in a comfortable tree platform with an “accurately sighted rife” and “a thumbnail pack of patience cards.” The villagers have tied up a goat at the best distance for the easiest shot at the tiger—they have chosen this specific goat because it bleats so persistently that “even a partially deaf tiger might be reasonably expected to hear [it] on a still night.”
Saki increases the total contradiction between traditional big-game hunting and Mrs. Packletide’s shoot, for Mrs. Packletide keeps entertainment on hand while she waits for the tiger. The perfect recipe of ideal weather and a ridiculously easy target foreshadows the humorous event of Mrs. Packletide’s failed shot. Again, Saki depicts the tiger as pitiful to contrast its almost-tame nature against the expected aggressive behaviors of a big-game quarry.
Louisa Mebbin suggests that the two women might be in some danger. She states this not believing it to be fact, but rather due to her “morbid dread” of being underpaid for her work. Upon Mrs. Packletide’s reply that the tiger is too old to reach them in the tree, Miss Mebbin exclaims that Mrs. Packletide is paying too much to hunt an elderly tiger. This statement matches Mebbin’s “protective elder-sister attitude towards money in general,” for she has always been thrifty with finances no matter what the situation or monetary denomination.
While Mrs. Packletide seems to lack any concerns about her finances, Louisa Mebbin reveals her life’s priority in obtaining money. These contrasting attitudes demonstrate the women’s different backgrounds—Mrs. Packletide is a member of the Edwardian upper class and has presumably always enjoyed a frivolous lifestyle, while Miss Mebbin is a middle-class and single woman who depends on Mrs. Packletide for her income. Louisa Mebbin’s insistence that Mrs. Packletide is paying too much to shoot the tiger foreshadows Mebbin’s later blackmail of Mrs. Packletide for a significant sum in return for remaining silent about the truth of Mrs. Packletide’s failed tiger hunt.
A sighting of the tiger cuts short Louisa Mebbin’s musings on money. Upon seeing the goat, the tiger lies down—apparently needing a rest rather than trying to hide from its prey. Miss Mebbin loudly exclaims in Hindustani that she thinks it is ill, directing her comment to the nearby village headman. The tiger then “ambles” toward the goat. Miss Mebbin shouts at Mrs. Packletide to shoot the tiger quickly, for “if he doesn’t touch the goat we needn’t pay for it!”
From the tiger’s fatigued and slow movements, to Louisa Mebbin’s exuberant cries as she tries to cut a better financial deal for Mrs. Packletide, Saki continues to craft a hilarious scene of the so-called big-game hunt. Due to Miss Mebbin’s comments to the village headman in Hindustani, readers can presume that village scenes take place in northwestern India.
Mrs. Packletide fires a loud shot from the rifle, and the tiger jumps in the air before rolling over, dead. A crowd of villagers rush the scene and excitedly yell the good news back to the village. Their shouting and drumming matches Mrs. Packletide’s thrill at killing the tiger—“already that luncheon in Curzon Street seemed immeasurably nearer.”
Upon the tiger’s death, the villagers are ecstatic, for they will receive a large payment from Mrs. Packletide. She has now successfully exploited Indian culture and wildlife, showing no remorse or acknowledgement of the tiger’s death except that her imagined lunch party is now in tantalizing reach. The event will signify Mrs. Packletide’s success in defeating Loona Bimberton on the London social circuit. Once again Saki satirizes the vanity of Mrs. Packletide and Edwardian upper class that the she represents.
It is Louisa Mebbin who realizes that Mrs. Packletide has accidentally shot the goat instead of the tiger, for the goat thrashes near death with a visible bullet hole while the big cat lies dead with no wound to be seen. The tiger has likely been killed from heart failure in shock at the rifle’s loud discharge. Mrs. Packletide is “pardonably annoyed at the discovery,” but feels secure in the knowledge that her payments mean that the villagers and Louisa Mebbin will go along with her fictitious story of successfully shooting the tiger. She duly takes photographs with the big cat, that later appear in foreign illustrated newspapers such as the “Texas Weekly Snapshot” and “Novoe Vremya.”
Despite having every possible element in her favor, Mrs. Packletide accidentally shoots the tethered goat. The tiger’s simultaneous death by fright is so absurd as to be farcical. Mrs. Packletide’s obsession with taking photographs of her staged kill to gain the admiration of her Edwardian upper-class peers sees her carelessly assume that her money is enough to get all of the witnesses on board with her fictitious story of a successful shoot; Louisa Mebbin’s involvement will later come back to cost Mrs. Packletide dearly. Saki satirizes Mrs. Packletide once again through his note that her hunting photographs reach the pages of insignificant media channels in America and Russia.
Upon Mrs. Packletide’s return to London, Loona Bimberton cannot bear to look at illustrated newspapers for weeks. Bimberton sends an insincere letter of thanks upon receiving the gift of a tiger-claw brooch; she declines to attend Mrs. Packletide’s lunch party.
The fiercely competitive history between Mrs. Packletide and Loona Bimberton makes it difficult for Bimberton to pretend to enjoy Mrs. Packletide’s exotic successes. Mrs. Packletide rubs it in by gifting Bimberton with a tiger-claw brooch that is meant to remind her of Mrs. Packletide’s hunting and social triumphs. Their interactions reflect the shallowness of both women, as well as the frivolity of the Edwardian upper-crust society they desperately seek approval from.
Mrs. Packletide sends the tiger-skin from house to house in London, where it is “duly inspected and admired by the county.” She also attends a fancy dress ball in the character of Diana (the Greek goddess of the hunt), where she mingles with a fellow socialite named Clovis. She ignores Clovis’s “tempting suggestion of a primeval dance party” where guests would wear the trophy hides of animals they have slain. Clovis laments that he would only be able to clothe himself in “a miserable rabbit-skin or two,” although notes this would suit his attractive figure while steering “a rather malicious glance at Diana’s proportions.”
The tiger is Mrs. Packletide’s ticket to winning the admiration of her fellow Edwardian peers, and she revels in promoting her exotic exploits at every opportunity. Clovis demonstrates spiteful tendencies that figure prominently in the female rivalries between Mrs. Packletide, Loona Bimberton, and Louisa Mebbin. Through Mrs. Packletide’s brazen choice to imply she has the Greek goddess Diana’s hunting prowess, and Clovis’s suggestion of a “primeval dance party” for the Edwardian elite, Saki satirizes Edwardian upper-class social propriety as absurd.
A few days after the ball, Louisa Mebbin shocks Mrs. Packletide when she threatens to reveal the truth of their fabricated hunt to Loona Bimberton and Mrs. Packletide’s London peers—the truth that Mrs. Packletide “shot the goat and frightened the tiger to death.” Mrs. Packletide’s complexion changes color rapidly, finally settling on “an unbecoming shade of greenish white” at Miss Mebbin’s shocking blackmail and her “disagreeably pleasant laugh.” Mebbin casually announces that there is a weekend cottage near Dorking that she fancies, although she does not have the six hundred and eighty pound purchase price required.
Louisa Mebbin’s casually pleasant demeanor is a front for a brutal, almost animalistic take down of her employer. Saki reveals Mebbin as the social competitor that Mrs. Packletide has on all occasions overlooked. His extreme satire of Mrs. Packletide throughout the story results in this highly enjoyable blackmail scene. Mrs. Packletide is so shocked that she cannot hide her facial reactions of horror in response to Mebbin’s threat to disclose her vanity and lies to the London social circuit.
Louisa Mebbin’s friends admire her new weekend cottage, named “Les Fauves” and so “gay in summer-time with its garden borders of tiger-lilies.” They marvel at the mystery of “how Louisa manages to do it.’” Meanwhile, when Mrs. Packletide’s peers ask about her future big-game hunting exploits, Mrs. Packletide replies that she no longer partakes in this pastime, as the incidental expenses are too great.
The final scene adds further elements of farce to the story, with the cottage’s flowers and name—translated as “The Wild Beasts” or “The Big Cats”—reminding Mrs. Packletide of her fraudulent big-game hunt in India. The weekend cottage becomes a symbol of Louisa Mebbin’s triumph over Mrs. Packletide in a parallel move to Mrs. Packletide’s gift of the tiger-claw brooch to demonstrate her victory over Loona Bimberton. Saki totally undermines Edwardian upper-class culture by characterizing all three women as unprincipled and ruthless creatures who will do anything for social gain.