Tiger in the Menagerie

After reading the poem by Emma Jones, “Tiger in the Menagerie”,  and taking notes about the literary devices and elements used that had been discussed during the lesson, we were asigned with an essay about it. We had to choose within three essay questions:

  • Explore how the author conveys mixed feelings about the tiger?
  • How does the writer make the atmosphere in the poem powerfully fearful?
  • In what ways does the poem expose the effect of social institutions on individuals?

I chose the third one. This is my essay:


                    The poem “Tiger in the Menagerie”, by Emma Jones, is an extended metaphor that tackles the unequal distribution of power within society. This is portrayed, mainly, in the light of the tiger and its relation with the birds and other creatures.

Firstly, the piece of writing deals with the double nature of the tiger. On the one hand, the “too flash, too blue” creature symbolises authority and superiority however, the actual orange animal is also attractive for its beauty. This is metonymical to human nature, and human violence, as a superior authority who surveils, imposes control and transmits fear. Following this, in the first stanza, a simile demonstrates a differentiation between appearance and reality: “too much like the painting of a tiger”. The tiger appears to be attractive, but repels, in the same way that the law and the social institutions appear to be protecting but are also restricting.

Additionally, this ambiguous relation, metonymical to human nature, can be also related to the British colonization over India. In the fourth stanza, the poem refers to when the English intruded the Indian, uncivilised, territory, and established the “colonnade” reflected onto the “Indian main” like the “bars” of the menagerie and the “stripes” of the tiger. This represents the authority imposed by the laws, rules and regulations, as in the colonization where the local population is submitted to them. This dominion is constantly controlling: “ when the sun rose… the tiger was one clear orange eye that walked into the menagerie”. The tiger, the authority into the menagerie, is always supervising and ruling over the birds as well as the social institutions do, keeping in check the people’s inner world.

Furthermore, the text shows that we are never free from social institutions. In the fifth stanza, through an oxymoron the writer demonstrates that although the tiger is the authority among the other animals, it is also trapped in the menagerie, or it chooses to be, together with the other creatures: “No one could say how the tiger got out in the menagerie”. Even the tiger, who represents the major power, is imprisoned or chooses to be limited, portraying that we are never free from social institutions even by our own will.

In conclusion, due to the metonymical effect of the double nature of the tiger as the double nature of human, this poem exposes the impact of social institutions on individuals in various manners. This brings into light the inequitably dispensed power inside society, either by connecting it with the British colonization over India or the authority of the social institutions anywhere, which always seem to restrain us, humans, from feeling and desiring freely.


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