In Tomas Wolfe’s “The Child by Tiger,” Dick Prosser, an oppressed black man living in the South, symbolizes innocence and evilness. Although Dick appears as an extremely religious and respectful man in white society, he gradually allows evilness to consume him, causing Dick to embark on a killing spree. While conforming to the black role, Dick attempts to gain a positive reputation through treating the children with respect. He calls them by a “formal address – ‘Mr.’ Crane, ‘Mr.’ Potterham, ‘Mr.’ Spangler, ‘Cap’n’ Shepperton.” He teaches the boys how to play football and how to box so that he can live a better life.
Through his chores, Dick constantly proves to be a respectful worker. He would even sing hymnals as he goes “about his work around the house.” Dick keeps his room “spotless as a barracks room” with only his Bible on his little table. Although he is a smart man, others still only see him as the “smartest darky.” On Sundays during church service, Dick would stand “neatly dressed in his good dark suit” and would “humbly” listen to the “entire sermon.” Although Dick is not allowed in the white church, he stands at the “side door” and recognizes the familiar verses from his “old Bible,” which is “worn out by constant use.”
After years of oppression, Dick finally decided that he had enough. The day that Lon Everett, a white drunken man, “skidded murdously” and “sideswiped” Dick was the very same day that his “eyes went red.” Dick proceeds to tend to his master after the crash. Everett then “smashed him in the face” while Dick’s hands “twitched slightly” at his side. Once Everett punched Dick for the second time, blood comes “trickling” down his face. Dick moved swiftly down the street “shooting from the hip” killing both blacks and white whether they were guilty or innocent. One “old Negro man stuck out” his head and is shot without hesitation. Another “kindly,” “devoted,” “pleasant florid faced man” is murdered as well.
Dick sees whites as the enemy as well as the blacks who do nothing to change the course of history. As Dick surrenders peacefully, he is “filled with bullets” by the “posse.” The men shot him some more and then took his “lifeless body” and “hung him to a tree” where they sprayed him with more bullets until he was a “riddled carcass.” He is brought back to town to be hung in a window like an animal as a warning to other blacks.
Living as an oppressed black man in the South, Dick Prosser symbolizes both the good and evil in everyone through his good deeds and his ramped killing spree. Even though Dick clearly had the ability to fight back, he was held back by the white society because he had no rights.
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