The Duality Of Man In Thomas Wolfe's 'The Child By Tiger'

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Thomas Wolfe was an American novelist best known for his writings on American culture in the mid 1920’s to the late 1930’s. A year before his death in 1938, he published a fictionalized accounting of a 1906 lynching of a black man supposedly named Will Harris called “The Child by Tiger”. In this story, Wolfe examines, as Private Joker of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket puts it, “The duality of man, the Jungian thing, sir”. Put simply, the duality of man is a means of understanding how man can be both good and evil. How man can be both the Tiger and the Lamb or the Tiger and the child. The subject of Wolfe’s story is Dick Prosser, an African-American veteran of the Spanish-American War who comes to town looking for work. The story quickly takes a darker turn as Dick goes on a rampage, killing many of the townspeople. Shortly after this, the otherwise kind townspeople form a lynch mob, hunt down Dick, a kill him in a rather gruesome manor. Wolfe rationalizes these extremes of behavior by quoting Williams Blake’s poem, “The Tiger” where Blake questions how God could create both good and evil. The reader is first introduced to Dick Prosser at the beginning of the story as somewhat of a Renaissance man. Prosser “He could cook, he could tend the furnace, he knew how to drive a car—in fact, it seemed to us boys that there was very little that Dick Prosser could not do… There was nothing that he did not know.” Wolfe goes on to laud Prosser for his remarkable marksmanship,
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