The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife Summary and Analysis of "The Diggers" (3) and "The Tiger" (4)


Unable to sleep well during her first night in Brejevina, Natalia reflects on her grandfather's life at the beginning of "The Diggers." She hears the coughing of the little girl who is with the diggers. Upon going to investigate, Natalia finds that the girl has a fever and that a young woman is treating her, using primitive remedies.

Natalia decides to seek out the diggers: as she approaches the vineyard where they are working, she falls into a shallow hole. The digger come rushing, and Natalia (once she has recovered) explains that she is a doctor. She addresses one digger, Dure, about the sick little girl, who is apparently Dure's daughter; she also asks about the other children who are with the party, including a boy named Marko who appears unfit for the nighttime work. All of these young people appear to be unwell, and Natalia wants them to be treated alongside the orphans. Dure, however, dismisses her offer.

Nonetheless, Natalia learns why the diggers are working in the vineyard. They want to recover a cousin of theirs, who was buried during the recent warfare and has been in the orchard for twelve years. Once this cousin has been unearthed and recovered, the diggers intend to depart.

In "The Tiger,” the action returns to an earlier time period. In 1941, the Germans began attacking the main city of Natalia's country. One resident of the city who was strongly affected was the zoo tiger, who was for a time reduced to loneliness and weakness. Yet the tiger escapes the zoo through a rupture in the wall, and makes his way through a city that in some ways has been reduced to looting, restlessness, and chaos. After stopping briefly in a graveyard, the tiger leaves the area of the city behind. At first, the tiger survives by eating corpses, dead animals, and birds' eggs. The tiger then tries to capture a boar: although the attempt is unsuccessful, it nonetheless awakens the tiger's predatory instincts.

Natalia then shifts the focus of the narration to Galina, the town where her grandfather grew up. After her grandfather's funeral, she takes a trip out to the lonely area where the town is located; on the way, she passes the monastery of Sveti Danilo, a local landmark. She also takes note of Marko Parovic, an elderly resident of the town who keeps on the lookout for visitors. The town itself has a few central features: a tavern, a one-armed statue of Sveti Danilo, and a well.

Because his parents died when he was very young, Natalia's grandfather was raised primarily by his grandmother, known as Mother Vera. Mother Vera came from a family of shepherds; she expected Natalia's grandfather to enter this profession, and sent him out to the local pastures during his boyhood. Yet other influences shaped the young man's interests. After he was accidentally poisoned during a childhood game of "house,” Natalia's grandfather was saved by the town apothecary. In fact, it was the apothecary who alerted Natalia's grandfather to the power of medical remedies, and who gave him a copy of Kipling's The Jungle Book.

In Galina, a herdsman named Vladisa first discovered the tiger. Unable to identify the creature, but terrified nonetheless, Vladisa ran into town in a panic. He drew a crowd that included Natalia's grandfather and the apothecary: together, the two of them are able to identify the creature that Vladisa saw. (One of the characters in The Jungle Book, Shere Khan, is a tiger; a picture of Shere Khan causes Vladisa to faint, and more or less confirms what Vladisa saw.) For its part, the tiger continues to lurk on the outskirts of the village, feasting on weakened animals and trying to make sense of the village odors that drift into the nearby wilderness. The tiger is especially drawn to a local smokehouse, and finds that someone has been leaving out pieces of meat. He soon ventures down, finding that a woman has been leaving out the food for him.

As time goes on, various signs (the remains of a stag, the restlessness of the village dogs) alert the villagers to the ongoing presence of the tiger. For his part, Natalia's grandfather makes the acquaintance of a deaf-mute girl who has recently come to town: this young woman is the wife of the town butcher, Luka, and is either ignored or quietly ostracized by the other villagers. Yet Natalia's grandfather has a memorable encounter with this deaf-mute girl around Christmastime: while going to fetch water, he notices a light in Luka's smokehouse and makes his way there. Once in the smokehouse, he detects the tiger, which brushes past him. Soon, the deaf-mute girl appears, but so do other villagers. Mother Vera is in a panic, at least at first; once it is ascertained that Natalia's grandfather is safe, the villagers become preoccupied with the footprints that the tiger has left in the snow.

The villagers soon decide that they must take action against the tiger. There is only one gun, an old Ottoman musket, in the entire village, yet three men decide that they will hunt the tiger down: Jovo the grocer, Luka the butcher, and the town blacksmith, who is the owner of the gun. These men set out to kill the tiger on Christmas Eve, accompanied by some of the village dogs.

Jovo, Luka, and the blacksmith come across the tiger near a frozen pond. One of the dogs attacks and is quickly overpowered. As later told by Luka and Jovo, the confrontation with the tiger would be a heroic face-off against a powerful animal capable of clearing a pond in a single leap. In reality, Luka and Jovo climbed a tree to escape the tiger, while the blacksmith, in the process of loading and checking the gun, accidentally shot himself in the face.


Throughout The Tiger's Wife, Obreht aggressively contrasts forces such as science and mythology, or rationalism and superstition. The first confrontation between Natalia's grandfather and Gavo offered an early example of this feature of the narrative; the confrontation between Natalia and the diggers offers another. While Natalia advocates modern medicine, the diggers stand for questionable traditional methods (the pouches) and dedication to their apparent superstitions. Dure, after all, claims that his buried cousin "Doesn't like it here, and he's making us sick" (Page 92).

These chapters also clarify the terms of Natalia's own storytelling. True to her logical side, she has obtained many of the important facts about her grandfather's background through conscientious investigation. Rather than simply relying on impressions or remembered hints to figure out her grandfather, she travels to the village of Galina to obtain as much information as she can. In her attempt to create a comprehensive account, Natalia painstakingly records the route that she takes to Galina. Such present day details might seem to distract from her grandfather's past, but they show Natalia as a meticulous (or perhaps over-meticulous) investigator.

Natalia also offers a few important comments on her grandfather's relationship to the town where he grew up: "My grandfather never took me there, rarely mentioned it, never expressed longing or curiosity, or a desire to return" (Page 97). The reasons for this personal distance are not yet clear. Going forward, one of the main sources of intrigue for Natalia (and for the reader of The Tiger's Wife) will be to figure out why Natalia's grandfather never wanted to return to his roots. Yet one oddity is already apparent: despite the grandfather's lack of clear attachment to Galina itself, he is deeply attached to his copy of The Jungle Book, a text that was first introduced to him in Galina. Why he honors this text, but not the town itself, is an incongruity worth exploring.

One of the most important symbols or figures in The Tiger's Wife, the tiger itself, makes its appearance in this stretch of the narrative. Natalia records the tiger's movements at length, in sequences that seem to be works of pure imagination, but still attempts to keep her personal writing style fairly grounded in detail and reason. As a storyteller, she holds back from personifying the tiger to the extent that she can. (Describing an animal as tired, or wounded, or alert, or as hunting prey are not really moments of personification: these are states that a reasonably intelligent animal would probably experience for itself.) The people of Galina, in contrast, eventually begin to view the tiger as an incarnation of the devil--to personify it, and even to give it superhuman characteristics.

One way or another, the villagers see the tiger as a threat. It is a threat from the outside, a creature so exotic that it cannot even be identified at first, and would thus be seen as a disruptive force in a sheltered and somewhat backwards community. But the tiger is most destructive not because of what it does on its own, but because of the panic and fear that it causes in Galina. Keep in mind that the blacksmith dies because he seeks out the tiger, not because the tiger seeks out him: in overreacting to a misunderstood threat, the villagers may only be bringing forms of destruction upon themselves.