The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

The Tiger (Symbol)

In many ways, tigers are symbols of chaos and destruction in the novel. Natalia's account of her life begins with a description of a tiger attacking a zoo employee, and the villagers regard the tiger that takes up residence near Galina as a threat and a “devil.” But tigers do have other, less clearly negative, functions in Obreht's narrative. In Galina, the tiger offers the Tiger's Wife escape from brutal everyday conditions; as an exotic animal, it also signals to Natalia's grandfather that there is a world that may be worth exploring and understanding beyond his small community.

The Deathless Man (Symbol)

The Deathless Man, Gavran Gaile, appears on three occasions and enters into conversation with Natalia's grandfather. As a symbol, "Gavo" is the very opposite of the typical vision of death: he is young, pleasant, and (despite his own history of loss) capable of enjoying a small pleasure such as a good meal. Yet the encounters with the Deathless Man bring Natalia's grandfather, in another sense, face to face with an invincible enemy. Medicine, after all, is a long and losing battle against death in the celebrated doctor's mind.

The Zoo (Symbol)

At the beginning of the novel, the city zoo is the site of the habitual trips that Natalia and her grandfather took during Natalia's childhood. However, with the tiger's attack on a member of the zoo staff, the zoo quickly ceases to be a symbol of innocence and begins to take on more sinister meanings. This transformation in the zoo's significance is completed later in the novel, when the zoo animals are reduced to acts of gruesome cannibalism during wartime. The zoo becomes a particularly stark symbol, in fact, of the horror involved in killing one's own species.

The Jungle Book (Allegory)

During his childhood, Natalia's grandfather received a copy of Kipling's The Jungle Book from the Galina apothecary. Some of the links between this earlier text and the events in The Tiger's Wife are extremely obvious: for instance, the tiger in Galina is compared to Shere Khan, the tiger in The Jungle Book. It is also possible, though, to see an allegorical connection between the events in Galina and the adventures depicted in Kipling's text. Both stories feature a young boy--Natalia's grandfather for Obreht, Mowgli for Kipling--who must deal with a world populated by solitary and imposing individuals. The powerful animals of The Jungle Book find their literary kin in memorable figures such as Mother Vera, Luka, Darisa the Bear, and the apothecary.

The Buried Relative (Symbol)

In Brejevina, Dure and the other diggers are attempting to unearth their cousin, and to ward off bad luck by doing so. While Natalia initially sees the actions of the diggers as little more than superstition, she eventually becomes an active participant in their efforts. The exchanges surrounding the digging reveal two different approaches to the same presence. Natalia sees the cousin mostly as a symbol of the past and a sign of the diggers' adherence to tradition, while Dure and the others believe that their actions are more that expressions of their customs—they think that the cousin can influence events taking place in the world.