‘Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger’ by Saki or Hector Hugh Munro: Short Story Analysis
‘Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger’ is one of Saki’s humorous pieces. This one satirizes the excesses of British colonialists in India during the Edwardian era. It tells us how affluent British women tried to impress each other with acts of daring to become popular in their circles in India and back home in England. Hector Hugh Munro or Saki is a famous British short story writer who made a name for himself with humor, mischievous, and sometimes downright macabre short stories. In this story, Loona Bimberton has managed to do something unusual, which has placed her above everyone else in her friend circle.
Bimberton had been carried in an airplane for eleven miles by an Algerian aviator. The daring act had made her the talk of the town. Mrs. Packletide was most annoyed that her friend was getting all the fame and glory and decided that the only way to be one up on her, was to hunt a tiger. The story is set in India when she was still under colonial rule. The British were fond of, in fact, obsessed with hunting and killing the denizens of the Indian forest and jungle. They shot for sport and decimated the population of rare animals. The tiger was the most sought-after animal by British colonists. Everyone felt compelled to kill this mighty feline, and so did the frivolous and pretentious Mrs. Packletide. The mention of the short distance traveled by airplane is the usual irony and one of several humorous sentences in the short story titled ‘Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger’. It is a modernistic story with an ambiguous start and finish. The beginning of the short story makes it very clear to us that Packletide was not interested in hunting; she was doing this to surpass Bimberton’s flying adventure. Thus, in the beginning, we realize that the story will be about false pretenses.
Like most hunts during that era, Saki humorously remarks that the deluded Packletide paid a thousand rupees for an elderly tiger on his last legs so that she could kill him. This poor tiger was a resident denizen of a nearby Indian village. The people of the village needed the cash that Packletide was ready to pay so that she might easily hunt a tiger without any risk of exertion. We see how desperate both parties were for their individual gains. Saki, with his excellent witticisms, mentions how the poor villagers sacrificed some of their goats in the forest so that the old feline would not stray too far away from the forest. There is a laugh out moment in the story of how even mothers with newborn babies or children hushed their singing as they returned from the fields so as not to scare away the tiger.
There are several comical sentences in the story. Saki is famous for dotting all his humorous pieces with comedy from beginning to end. His use of syntax is so appropriate that you can’t get enough of the tale of how Packletide sat on the platform in the tree, and instead of shooting the old tiger, she killed the bait meant to lure him to her, which was a goat from the village. On the platform constructed on the treetop in the forest, two women sit waiting for the tiger to arrive at the designated spot. A goat with a tendency to squeal is kept tied to the place. The two women on the platform are Packletide and her assistant Miss Mebbin. Mebbin steals the show in this story when she realizes that Packletide has shot the goat by mistake, and the tiger died because of shock and heart failure. Yet, Packletide posed that it was she who shot the tiger and not the goat. Later, Mebbin blackmails Packletide, saying that she wanted the rich Packletide to buy her a weekend cottage near Darking. Packletide, who by this time has made headlines in many newspapers and become the envy of many people who believe she had shot the tiger, gives in to the demands of the greedy Mebbin. She buys Mebbin the weekend cottage to keep her quiet. There is an ironic note in the story that Mebbin’s weekend cottage has garden borders lined with ‘tiger lilies’ indicative of how she used her knowledge of the reality of the tiger hunt to get this cottage. Mebbin calls the cottage ‘Les Fauves’, which in French means ‘the wild beasts’ which is another ironic statement about how she came by the cottage.
Coming back to Packletide, Saki mentions that she got a dead tiger to show off to her friends. She makes the beast into a rug, makes a brooch out of its claws, and holds a splendid lunch party with the tiger rug at the center of the action. Bimberton shows her disinterest in the whole affair and does not attend the lunch party. Either she was unaffected by the entire incident or, as Saki mentions, angered that she was as it were ‘put down’ by Packletide. But the words ‘there are limits beyond which repressed emotions become dangerous’ indicate that Bimberton was affected or Packletide thought Bimberton was affected as she refused to attend the lunch party held in her honor.
There is a mention of Packletide going to a Country Costume Ball dressed as Diana, the Roman goddess of hunting, moonlight, and chastity. She dresses up her voluptuous body in the tiger skin while a certain Mr. Clovis, a leering but cheeky fellow, relishes her. He proposes sensually at the ball that everyone at a party should wear the coats or skins of the animals they have killed. He believed he would be the ‘Baby Bunting’ of the lot, which is indicative that he would then be almost naked because he had only hunted two or three rabbits at most. Clovis appears in many of Saki’s stories.
One can see the central theme of this short story is the shallowness of the British elite in India during the colonial rule. The story is Victorian but has certain ambiguities that crop up in the writings we call modernism. Neither Bimberton nor Packletide is the winner in this story. The real winner is Mebbin, who, through the circuitous route of blackmail, managed to get an expensive weekend cottage. Everyone in this story, from the poor villagers to the village headman hiding behind a bush to all the women mentioned in this story, is hankering after fame, riches, and possessions. Even the aged tiger seems to be greedy for goats, who like a retired British official succumbs to a ‘shock’ or heart failure when the gunshot goes off Pickletide’s rifle.
The protagonist and central character in this story are Packletide, and a highly entertaining supporting cast is Mebbin. Mebbin is a person who is like an elder sister or doting parent to money, personally and generally. She is always attracting money and saving on it. She even comically mentions that since the tiger was old, the villagers should not charge such an astronomical sum. She says that if the goat were unhurt during the shooting, they would not pay extra for the goat. Mebbin is a deceiver, a cutthroat, and treacherous to her friends. She waits until Packletide has told everyone about the killing of the tiger, and only then, when she knows that Packletide could not afford to have the truth leaked, blackmails her. The setting of this story is probably in Delhi on Curzon Street. The shooting of the tiger takes place in a forest nearby. However, Packletide, after the tiger incident, decides not to hunt anymore because of the vast amount of money she has spent to make herself famous.
I am an ardent fan of Saki’s short stories. Incidentally, ‘Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger’ was one of the first Saki short stories I read as a child at school. I believe it was in grade four that this story was introduced in our English textbooks. I have the entire Saki collection and will review them soon. He is undoubtedly a remarkable and humorous writer.
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