In the short story The Child by Tiger, Thomas Wolfe portrays mans dark side through the unexpected madness of the seemingly good-natured Dick Prosser and the actions taken by the town people. This story is set in an era when people believed race determined the moral character of a person. Many viewed blacks as social outcast and hence the cause of most crimes. This is true to the extent that African Americans were committing a large number of petty crimes, but were they really the cause. Many factors play into determining a cause, and in this case it is quite evident that the social conditions in which African Americans were forced to live in contributed to there social behavior. However, can these pressures push a man to mental madness and drive him towards mass murder? It is not just to say that he is without fault, but it is true to say that, the coldness of one man will decrease the warmth of another. The story gives us a glimpse of Dick s life a short period before the climax. We are left to probe clues and use our imagination and intuition to come to a personal conclusion of why Dick committed mass murder.
The time in which the story takes place was a period of severe racial discrimination especially toward Blacks. The most prevalent attitude toward African Americans was that they were somehow inferior to the whites. This is evident by the referral of Dick as the Shepperton s Negro man (Wolfe 24). Mr. Shepperton himself
declared that Dick was the best man he d ever had, the smartest darky that he d ever known. (Wolfe 26). Dick had served a long enlistment in the United States Army. Here he learned tricks and traits that made him useful as a servant. It was his submissiveness towards white folks, which charmed everyone, particularly the kids. He called all of us Mister this formal address pleased us immensely (Wolfe 24). Although the kids of the story admire Dick, they were raised as though they were superior to him. This form of upbringing is what keeps the social parasite called racism alive.
The town was incredibly cruel to Dick, but could this cruelty cause madness and eventually murder. On a table in Dick s room there was always just one object: an old Bible almost worn out by constant use (Wolfe 25). Through out the beginning of the story, Dick was depicted as a deeply religious man, and hence not capable of such a sin as murder. It appears that Wolfe might have tried to foreshadow the horrific event by mentioning the strange jargon of Biblical phrases Dick chanted. Oh, white fokes, white fokes, de Armageddon day s a-comin , white fokes, an de dry bones in de valley (Wolfe 27). How can a man with such Biblical devotion and knowledge commit murder? It could have been that Dick misinterpreted the Bible and believed he was doing God s will by trying to rid the world of evilness. Why else would have Wolfe mentioned the Biblical verses that Dick had marked when he last read the Bible. The Lord is my shepherd 3. He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name s sake. 4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art
rampage, it is supportive evidence that he believed he was doing the will of God until the end.
Perhaps, these were the last verses he read before he went mad; hence discrediting the validity of the previous theory. If this is so, there must be a cause for his sudden madness. Maybe, it was the result of an injury or cerebral viral disease, or simply because of built up stress. In fact, Dick s life would have been full of stress and built up anger. Lon Everrett swung viciously at the Negro, smashed him in the face. Dick did not move. Butt suddenly the whites of his eyes were shot with red, his bleeding lips bared for a moment over the white ivory of his teeth. Lon smashed at him again. The Negro took it full in the face again; his hands twitched slightly, but he did not move. This is evidence of injury to the head and of the withholding of anger, both of which can separately result in psychological disruption. If Dick frequently encountered this form of treatment then it would have undoubtedly caused him to snap
Whatever the cause it does not excuse the manifestation of mans deeply hidden evil. For man has the ability to discern between good and evil, right and wrong, just and unjust, logical and illogical, and therefore he must recognize that his decisions also affect the lives around him. The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like the deep darkness: they do not know what makes them stumble (Proverbs 4:18). If this Biblical -
manifested itself, because the town till this day knows not what made it stumble. Men debated and discussed these things a thousand times and all of it came to nothing. No one knew the answer (Wolfe 39).