The three main characters of Saki’s satiric short story “Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger” all happen to be women. Mrs. Packletide, her paid companion Louisa Mebbin, and her rival Loona Bimberton cross paths in their hometown of London, after Mrs. Packletide has taken it upon herself to travel to India with Miss Mebbin in order to kill a tiger. Mrs. Packletide is trying to outdo Loona Bimberton’s social popularity after the latter flew eleven miles in an airplane with an Algerian aviator. Notably, by 1911, when Saki wrote the story, social changes had popularized female defiance against a male-dominated Edwardian society. Mrs. Packletide, Loona Bimberton, and Louisa Mebbin similarly threaten conventional ideas about gender as they take on traditionally masculine roles and characteristics. However, Saki undermines this female strength through the women’s fiercely jealous behaviors that are evidenced as they wrestle to gain social power over one another. Saki’s short story therefore foregrounds female competition and jealousy as the predominant drivers of Edwardian upper-class society.
The story’s three principal characters are women who claim some of the roles and traits traditionally associated with men. Mrs. Packletide inhabits a male world of hunting and colonial exploitation, for she pays Indian villagers to allow her the privilege of shooting an almost-tame elderly tiger that resides nearby. Loona Bimberton is similarly a woman occupying traditionally masculine roles, undertaking flight in a newly-invented airplane. Interestingly, Saki fails to mention to husbands and sons in the story—suggesting these women do not conform to traditional female roles as wives and mothers. Additionally, the women exhibit traditionally masculine behaviors and traits. Mrs. Packletide collects trophies—the tiger-skin, magazine photos, and bragging rights are all prizes of sorts. Loona Bimberton’s escapade flying in an ultra-modern airplane paints her as a dashing and bold character. Furthermore, Louisa Mebbin demonstrates the traditionally masculine tendencies of a cunning and economically-savvy mind. Readers can view all three characters as defying early twentieth-century gender norms through their intrusions into stereotypically male spheres.
However, Saki undermines the positive feminism associated with these gender-defying women by simultaneously portraying all three characters as frivolous, selfish, and unethical individuals. Rather than displaying a social conscience, Mrs. Packletide obsesses over superficial societal success that results from peer and media attention. She is a jealous and elitist Edwardian socialite who values image more than reality. She is neither intelligent nor career-minded; instead she is obsessed with keeping up with the Joneses next door. Loona Bimberton is that Jones next door, a double to Mrs. Packletide in her foolish pursuit of elite social standing. Saki contradicts her bravery in undertaking a remarkable airplane flight with her with jealous responses to Mrs. Packletide’s exploits in India. Bimberton is also an underdeveloped and superficial character, generating readers’ disrespect. Louisa Mebbin is a shrewder character than her counterparts. Readers might believe that Mebbin doesn’t play the game of competitive elitism, until the story’s conclusion, where Saki reveals Mebbin has in fact played this game most successfully by making the greatest monetary and social gain of all characters. Mebbin is therefore an intelligent and level-headed woman, but Saki still discredits her due to her dishonorably blackmailing Mrs. Packletide to acquire money. Saki litters his story with oxymorons that echo the contradiction of each female character’s behaviors—“deviation towards,” “elaborate carelessness,” “venerable herd-robber,” “beast of prey,” “immeasurably nearer,” “limits beyond which” and “disagreeably pleasant” are all such examples. These oxymorons textually reflect the absurd thematic contradictions of the three female characters’ gender reform played against their unprincipled values.
Despite displaying some positive feminist characteristics, the three principal female characters in “Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger” reveal core traits of vanity and selfishness that destroy any audience goodwill. Saki thereby satirizes female behavior, specifically mocking upper-class Edwardian women who participated in Britain’s colonial hold over India. The story’s lack of male characters serves to remove men from ridicule, foregrounding only these selfish, competitive women. By discrediting Mrs. Packletide, Loona Bimberton and Louisa Mebbin as jealous and immoral, Saki perhaps goes beyond satire to suggest that Edwardian upper-class women are dangerous and undesirable social menaces.
Female Jealousy ThemeTracker
Female Jealousy 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.
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.”
“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.