William Blake wrote The Tyger as a counterpart to The Lamb. In its simplest interpretation, it may seem that The Tyger represents the bad in mankind, and The Lamb represents the good. The speaker asks the tiger, “What immortal hand or eye, could frame thy fearful symmetry?” (4) The Tyger is majestic, but also dangerous and ferocious. However, Blake shows that the tiger is scary and evil sometimes, but maybe people just can’t understand the reason it was created. The tiger, like all living things, has a purpose. Blake supports this idea throughout the poem. He uses a couple of mythological allusions which, if understood, make this poem much more complex and meaningful. An allusion is made to Prometheus and the Greek god Hephaestus, who is equivalent to the Roman god Vulcan. Blake successfully incorporates these allusions to present all aspects of the tiger. He acknowledges the tiger’s faults, but also includes its strengths. This makes a very fair and bold argument.
The speaker asks “What the hand, dare seize the fire?” (8). This is an allusion to when Prometheus stole fire from Zeus and gave it to mortals. The gift of fire allowed humans to be productive and inventive. By placing this idea in The Tyger, Blake suggests that it is this darker side of humans which allowed them to progress so much in history. By looking even closer at Prometheus, many other insights can be given into Blake’s reasoning behind this poem. Prometheus was punished by Zeus for giving humans fire. Zeus had Hephaestus, who is mentioned later in The Tyger, shackle Prometheus to the side of a crag. There he was doomed to spend eternity while being attacked by an eagle every day. Prometheus was fated to be punished by his own kind, the other gods. This is obviously also true to humans. Because of the evil that lurks in the hearts of men, we have always, and will probably continue to torture and abuse other humans.
Zeus was still angry with Prometheus, so he decided to undo the good that Prometheus had done for mankind. Zeus did this by creating Pandora, whose body was created by Hephaestus. She contained hate, mistrust, disease, and other things unknown to the innocent humans. Pandora was given to Prometheus’s brother, and when this gift was ‘opened’ all the evil things inside were released to the world. This story enhances the idea of the tiger
being horrid and ferocious as you read The Tyger.
Blake uses this allusion to Prometheus to unlock several ideas about the tiger. Humans often question why God put harmful things in this world, and although it remains unanswered, Blake brings the question into the open for consideration. Blake also illustrated that “the tiger” and other things associated with the dark side of human nature, has allowed humans to be prosperous. Lastly, the poet still keeps the reader aware of the truly harmful side of the tiger, so that they aren’t disillusioned.
The other mythological allusion is Hephaestus, who was mentioned a few times in the stories of Prometheus. Hephaestus shows a different aspect of the tiger. “What the hammer? What the chain, In what furnace was thy brain?” (13-14) is the passage in this poem where Hephaestus is discussed. He is the god of fire, especially the blacksmith’s fire. Blake says that the tiger was made by an immortal, and now he suggests that Hephaestus created it. Hephaestus was known for creating evil things. He made the shackles that bound Prometheus to the crag to be tortured. He also created the body of Pandora, which held many evil things and released on Earth. Perhaps this allusion means that he created the tiger to bring evil into the world.
According to Ron Ledbetter, Hephaestus was born weak and crippled. His mother, Hera, was displeased with the sight of his son, so she “threw Hephaestus from Mount Olympus, and he fell for a whole day,” (Ledbetter 1). Hephaestus also made many wonderful things for people, in spite of the destructive things he had made. This is a key point Blake is trying to show about the tiger. He possesses both good and bad, not just one or the other. He made arrows for Eros, the god of love. He made the chariot for the sun god, Helios.
The tiger is also treated differently because he has a ferocious appearance. There was a reason that Hephaestus existed. The tiger, although dangerous and ferocious, was created by God for some purpose, and this is another aspect of the tiger that William Blake is trying to express.
The idea of the tiger possessing both good and bad qualities is presented in the actual text of the poem. However, by examining these mythical allusions used in The Tyger, this concept is much more developed and specified. Prometheus gave insight to humans so they could progress and grow. He was then punished by his fellow deities. The tiger is obviously the darker side of mankind, but it is this side of humans that has allowed them to make conquests and discoveries. This is what allowed the human race to become what it is today. Along with that comes the fact that we do punish our peers, much like Prometheus was treated. The story of Hephaestus has this same ‘pros and cons’ effect.
He did many wonderful things with his powers, but just as many horrible and hateful things. The tiger, and all that he represents in this poem does the same. In addition, Hephaestus was also misjudged by those around him. This idea of prejudice is very prevalent in human society, we judge the tiger as well as anything else that appears ominous. Blake’s concept of the tiger in this poem is very much like the idea of yin and yang. The good has a little bit of bad, and the bad has a little bit of bad, like the Lamb and the Tyger, where the Tyger is the bad with a glimmer of good in it.