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‘A Tiger in the Zoo’ Notes
The poem portrays the pain and anguish of a tiger who lives in the confines of a concrete cell with bars in a zoo. In contrast is the setting of a forest where the tiger should have been, lurking in the long grass around the water hole in search of a prey, or terrorising the people living at the jungle’s edge.
SUMMARY: A Tiger in the Zoo
The tiger in the poem is described as helpless and tormented. The wild and fearless animal is confined to a cage while humans derived pleasure visiting him in the zoo. By showing the contrast between the tiger behind bars and tiger hunting in the wild, the poet tries to evoke readers’ sympathy towards the sensitive issue of animal imprisonment.
Broadly, the summary is divided into:
- The Tiger in his Cell
- The Tiger in the Jungle
- The Tiger in the Zoo
The Tiger in his Cell
- ‘He’, that is, the tiger, quietly paces inside his tiny cell.
- The tiger is enraged at being captured.
The Tiger in the Jungle
- The tiger should be hunting wild and free in the jungle.
- He should be hunting deer near the watering hole.
- His roars should be striking fear among the people in the villages.
- He ought to be terrorising humans with his sharp teeth and claws.
The Tiger in the Zoo
- Instead, the tiger is confined to a cell.
- He moves round in the cage taking a few steps as the cage is small.
- His ignores visitors who have come to see him at the zoo.
- After the zoo is closed, he looks at the sky dreaming of his freedom.
The major theme of this poem is freedom vs captivity.
- Through the symbols of cage (captivity) and sky (freedom), Norris brings out the helplessness of a tormented caged tiger who longs for freedom while in captivity.
- The theme of freedom is shown through the tiger hunting in the wild.
- This theme is also depicted in the strength of the tiger who terrorises the people of the village.
- Finally, it is shown through the sky, ‘brilliant stars’, which evokes the image of freedom.
- This is sharply contrasted with the theme of captivity. Captivity is best shown through the line ‘few steps in his cage’. This is all the space the tiger now has to live in.
- Another instance is how the strength of the tiger which hunted prey and terrorised villages is now trapped inside the cage in a zoo.
POETIC DEVICES: A Tiger in the Zoo
A few key literary elements in the poem are:
- Rhyme Scheme
Rhyme Scheme: The rhyme scheme for first, second and fifth stanza is abcb and for third and fifth stanza is abcd.
Norris symbolises the words ‘cage’ and ‘sky’.
- ‘Cage’ symbolises the captivity of the tiger by humans.
- ‘Sky’, on the other hand, symbolises the freedom that the caged tiger longs for.
- By symbolising ‘cage’ and ‘sky’, Norris shows the helplessness of the tiger.
- The poet uses the phrase ‘quiet rage’, in which the words ‘quiet’ and ‘rage’ have contrasting meaning.
- This contrasting phrase is used to convey that though the tiger is quiet in the cage, it is full of rage.
- The tiger is referred to with the use of the pronoun ‘he’, implying that he can feel like humans do, that is, feeling helpless at being imprisoned and wanting to be free.
- Therefore, the tiger has been personified, that is, has been given human-like qualities in this poem.
Alliteration – Repetition of initial consonant sounds in the same line
Alliteration has been used in phrases
- ‘should be lurking in shadow’
- ‘plump deer pass’, ‘in a concrete cell’
By highlighting soft sounds like ‘s’, ‘p’ and ‘c’, Norris draws the readers’ attention towards the tiger’s condition – what it is and what it should be.
Metaphor – Metaphor is a literary device used to make a comparison without using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’.
- ‘On pads of velvet quiet’ – this phrase compares the paws of the tiger to velvet because of the quality of softness of velvet
Repetition – Repetition of words/phrases in the same line.
- The words ‘stalk’, ‘quiet’ and ‘brilliant’ are repeated throughout the poem.
- The word ‘stalk’ and ‘quiet’ refer to the strength of the tiger and how it has been trapped inside the cage.
- The word ‘brilliant’, on the other hand, refers to both the sky and the tiger’s eyes. It represents the tiger’s yearning to be free.
There are two different rhyme schemes in the poem. They are abcb and abcd.
He stalks in his velvet stripes. a
The few steps of his cage, b
On pads of velvet quiet, c
In his quiet rage. b
But he’s locked in a concrete cell, a
His strength behind bars, b
Stalking the length of his cage, c
Ignoring visitors. d