The traditional relationship between animals and humans is flipped in Saki’s short story “Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger,” where he describes the animals as tame and the humans as wild characters. Mostly set in colonial India, the narrative is centered on Mrs. Packletide’s undertaking to kill the titular tiger in order to outdo fellow socialite Loona Bimberton. Bimberton has recently completed a daring and exotic trip by airplane with an Algerian aviator, but Mrs. Packletide is quite certain her triumph in personally securing a tiger-skin will become the talk of town. Through his characterization of tame animals and unkind, even beastly, humans, Saki observes that British colonists and their beneficiaries were more dangerous than the predators they hunted.
Saki describes the animals in Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger as tame in order to undermine Mrs. Packletide’s illusion of her exotic big-game hunting. Tigers are often described as fearsome and majestic beasts in literature, but here the tiger is weak and pitiful. Saki explicitly details the titular tiger as an elderly, partially deaf, and perhaps unwell creature that requires plenty of sleep. Instead of hunting wild game, the tiger eats domestic animals such as goats that it can easily find in the village. The tiger is almost domesticated itself, as the village children confine it inside the village boundaries. When it sees a goat tethered as bait, the tiger lies down—not to cleverly disguise its approach, but because it is tired. These narrative details paint the tiger as feeble and tame rather than wild and exotic. The tiger’s tamed character is also signaled by the story’s title, which foreshadows Mrs. Packletide’s transaction of one thousand rupees for her ownership of tiger killing rights. Saki further details two other compliant animals that have died at human instruction—the pitiful, persistently bleating goat that Mrs. Packletide accidentally shoots instead of the tiger, and a “miserable rabbit” that British socialite Clovis imagines killing and wearing to a fancy-dress party. Together, all of these details underscore human cruelty—or at least indifference—toward the natural world.
In contrast to the animals, Saki characterizes the principal human characters in this story—British socialites Mrs. Packletide and Loona Bimberton and paid companion Louisa Mebbin—as disagreeable, selfish, and sometimes cruel individuals who are more beastly in behavior than the animals they seek to dominate. Saki likens Mrs. Packletide to a predator in numerous ways. Unlike the almost-tame tiger who tiredly lies down when it sees prey, Mrs. Packletide is a hunter described in active terms as she “crouched” and “awaited the coming of the quarry [the tiger].” Saki furthermore compares her to Nimrod, a biblical figure known for his skill as a hunter, and Diana, the classical Roman goddess of the hunt. Finally, a base or “animal” emotion wholly governs Mrs. Packletide’s behaviors: her jealousy of Loona Bimberton. Saki positions Loona Bimberton as a mirror image to Mrs. Packletide, as she is a similarly uncivilized character governed by animalistic selfishness and frivolity. She goes to great lengths to partake in exotic adventures—including a flight with an Algerian pilot—in order to ascend in social standing. Louisa Mebbin is the most animalistic of the women. Although a rational character, she is cruel in her conquest over Mrs. Packletide when she blackmails her into buying Mebbin a weekend cottage. Mebbin achieves this by ruthlessly threatening to reveal the truth of Mrs. Packletide’s false killing to London’s upper circles. The fact that Mebbin plants “tiger-lilies” at her new cottage and names it “Les Fauves,” translated as “The Wild Beasts” or “The Big Cats,” is a reminder of her triumph and an enduring statement of control over Mrs. Packletide. Louisa Mebbin therefore wounds other characters to a far greater extent than the feeble tiger.
In “Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger,” Saki flips the civilization versus savagery trope on its head when considering humans and animals. Audiences can easily recognize who is more dangerous—not the tiger as a traditionally lethal predator, but the human beings, specifically female socialites who exploit exotic environments for their own selfish ambitions.
Animals vs. Humans ThemeTracker
Animals vs. Humans Quotes in Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger
The compelling motive for her sudden deviation towards the footsteps of Nimrod was the fact that Loona Bimberton had recently been carried eleven miles in an aeroplane by an Algerian aviator, and talked of nothing else; only a personally procured tiger-skin and a heavy harvest of press photographs could successfully counter that sort of thing.
The prospect of earning the thousand rupees had stimulated the sporting and commercial instincts of the local villagers; children were posted night and day on the outskirts of the local jungle to head the tiger back in the unlikely event of his attempting to roam away to fresh hunting-grounds, and the cheaper kinds of goats were left about with elaborate carelessness to keep him satisfied with his present quarters.
The great night duly arrived, moonlit and cloudless. A platform had been constructed in a comfortable and conveniently placed tree, and thereon crouched Mrs. Packletide and her paid companion, Miss Mebbin. A goat, gifted with a particularly persistent bleat, such as even a partially deaf tiger might be reasonably expected to hear on a still night, was tethered at the correct distance. With an accurately sighted rifle and a thumb-nail pack of patience cards the sportswoman awaited the coming of the quarry.
In a moment a crowd of excited natives had swarmed on to the scene, and their shouting speedily carried the glad news to the village, where a thumping of tom-toms took up the chorus of triumph. And their triumph and rejoicing found a ready echo in the heart of Mrs. Packletide; already that luncheon-party in Curzon Street seemed immeasurably nearer.
From Curzon Street the tiger-skin rug travelled down to the Manor House, and was duly inspected and admired by the county, and it seemed a fitting and appropriate thing when Mrs. Packletide went to the County Costume Ball in the character of Diana.
“How amused everyone would be if they knew what really happened,” said Louisa Mebbin a few days after the ball. “What do you mean?” asked Mrs. Packletide quickly. “How you shot the goat and frightened the tiger to death,” said Miss Mebbin, with her disagreeably pleasant laugh. “No one would believe it,” said Mrs. Packletide, her face changing colour as rapidly as though it were going through a book of patterns before post-time. “Loona Bimberton would,” said Miss Mebbin.
Louisa Mebbin’s pretty week-end cottage, christened by her “Les Fauves,” and gay in summer-time with its garden borders of tiger-lilies, is the wonder and admiration of her friends.
Mrs. Packletide indulges in no more big-game shooting. “The incidental expenses are so heavy,” she confides to inquiring friends.