In his short story “Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger,” Saki explores Edwardian upper-class vanity through the titular British socialite’s desire to hunt a tiger in India. Mrs. Packletide is a frivolous woman who is obsessed with her social aspirations. In particular, she must outdo the exotic adventures of fellow London socialite Loona Bimberton. Saki ridicules both women, but particularly Mrs. Packletide, to scorn the attitudes of upper-class Edwardian settlers and travelers at the turn of the twentieth century. In 1911, when Saki wrote the story, the British Raj had formally ruled the Indian subcontinent for more than fifty years. In this context, British colonial exploitation provides an important backdrop to “Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger,” in which the sparsity of Indian local life starkly contrasts the Edwardian socialites’ frivolous behaviors. This contrast further calls readers’ attention to Saki’s critique of the vanity and shallowness of Edwardian upper-class pretension.
Readers can immediately identify the story’s principal characters as foolish British high-society women. Mrs. Packletide is consumed by a desire to show off her tiger-skin at her home in London’s prestigious Curzon Street, particularly reveling in boasting her exotic trophy in the face of rival socialite Loona Bimberton. Bimberton is equally obsessed with one-upping her peers and cannot face the prospect of attending Mrs. Packletide’s lunch if she is not the center of admiring attention. Each of these women’s names also appear silly to readers—particularly Loona Bimberton, with its embedded echoes of “loony” and “bimbo,” alongside the sounds of “cackle” and “jackal” associated with Mrs. Packletide’s name. From the story’s outset, then, readers can picture the women as foolish, crazy, and unscrupulous characters. Saki further highlights upper-class pretensions through Mrs. Packletide’s hypocritical desire to kill a tiger without any of the risk or effort of big-game hunting—instead, Mrs. Packletide waits for an elderly and almost-tame tiger to be lured within easy shot from the comfortable tree platform that villagers have specifically built for her. She pays an extravagant amount of money for this opportunity, and keeps her paid companion, Louisa Mebbin, and a deck of playing cards on hand to entertain her while she waits for her quarry. These situational factors are so far removed from the realities of an actual big-game hunt as to be ridiculous, especially when Mrs. Packletide accidentally shoots the tiger’s bait, a tethered goat, instead of the tiger. The elderly tiger dies of a suspected heart attack at the loud gunshot, but the villagers are happy to pretend that Mrs. Packletide successfully shot the great cat in exchange for their payment. As soon as she is certain she can claim the tiger’s death, Mrs. Packletide is vainly and excessively swept away by the imagined social prestige that will result from the false hunt: “And their [the villagers] triumph and rejoicing found a ready echo in the heart of Mrs. Packletide; already that luncheon party in Curzon Street seemed immeasurably nearer.” Saki makes it clear that Mrs. Packletide cares far more about admiration from her London peers than the hunt itself.
Saki uses a backdrop of British colonialism to heighten his ridicule of Mrs. Packletide when she travels to India to exploit the nation’s exotic culture and wildlife. It is Mrs. Packletide’s “pleasure and intention” to kill a tiger, and she is happy to exploit Indian peoples and wildlife in her pursuit. Her attitudes reflect those of British colonists, who imposed European authority and culture on numerous nations, including India, for British gains. In the case of Mrs. Packletide, she controls wild animals using weapons and indigenous peoples using money. The absurd conditions of her hunt amplify her unethical behavior—she pays an exorbitant fee to an Indian village for rights to kill an almost-tame tiger, and then fails to accurately shoot the tiger despite its aged movements and close proximity to the comfortable platform she waits in. It is only Mrs. Packletide’s elite classist advantages, specifically her wealth, that maintain her illusion of big-game hunter. Saki’s ridicule of Edwardian socialites also demonstrates the British colonial obsession with the exotic. Beyond Mrs. Packletide’s desire to travel to India and kill a tiger for the resulting social prestige, readers learn that London socialites crave the exotic thrill of flying with Algerian aviators and attending fancy-dress balls as Roman goddesses. They demonstrate a desire to manipulate rather than understand other cultures. Saki’s implicit critique of British colonialism, then, further points to Edwardian upper-class shallowness and vanity.
Saki skewers Edwardian upper-class pretension using sharp satire and anti-colonial rhetoric. He criticizes Mrs. Packletide’s foolish behaviors and opulent spending habits, and further highlights her frivolities as maintaining British colonial traditions by exploiting Indian peoples and wildlife. Mrs. Packletide’s humorous caricature demonstrates the Edwardian upper-class’s total disregard of concern for fellow society—vanity and selfishness prevent such influential citizens from making positive social change. Indeed, Saki’s mocking portrayal of British elitism is the reason that readers applaud Mrs. Packletide’s comeuppance at the story’s conclusion.
Edwardian Upper-Class Pretension ThemeTracker
Edwardian Upper-Class Pretension 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.
Louisa Mebbin adopted a protective elder-sister attitude towards money in general, irrespective of nationality or denomination.
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.
Therefore did Mrs. Packletide face the cameras with a light heart, and her pictured fame reached from the pages of the “Texas Weekly-Snapshot” to the illustrated Monday supplement of the “Novoe Vremya.”
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.