‘The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves’ taps into important themes of society, peer pressure, expectations, and individuality. While the poem might be aimed at a younger audience, these themes are applicable to anyone hearing or reading the poem. The first few lines are upbeat and optimistic but as the poem progresses it gets darker as the various animals shame the tiger into reverting back to who society says he’s supposed to be.
The speaker describes the tiger’s desire to set aside his toughness and jazz up his outfit. He wants to wear white gloves just for the pleasure of it. But, as soon as he gets them the other animals react poorly. They make fun of him and shame him until he has to take them off, dejectedly.
‘The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves’ by Gwendolyn Brooks is a four stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza is sixteen lines long, the second is six, the third is twenty-three and the fourth is twelve. There is a very even and consistent rhyme scheme in these lines that conforms to the pattern of AABBCC, and so on, changing end sounds from couplet to couplet.
Brooks makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves’. These include but are not limited to anaphora, personification, alliteration, and enjambment. Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “tiger, terrible and tough” in the first line of the first stanza and “jaguar jeered” inline-four of the third stanza. Personification occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. This is the most obvious technique at work in ‘The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves’. It can be seen through all the descriptions of the animals as well as the tiger’s primary desire to wear gloves.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines five and six in the first stanza as well as lines three and four in the fourth.
Brooks also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. For example, the use of the word “The” in the third stanza.
There once was a tiger, terrible and tough,
who said “I don’t think tigers are stylish enough.
They put on only orange and stripes of fierce black.
And growled and tossed his head,
and rushed to the jungle fair
for something fine to wear.
In the first stanza of ‘The Tiger Who Wore White Gloves,’ the speaker starts off with a traditional beginning, “There once was…” The speaker tells of a very tough tiger who decided that tigers aren’t “stylish enough”. There is a very clear use of personification in this poem. It is seen through the tiger’s thoughts and actions. There are also examples of alliteration in the first line and in those which immediately follow.
The speaker describes the nature of tigers, the way they move, “hither and thither” and scare those around them. But, that “just isn’t enough” this one tiger thinks. It’s not enough to be “tough”. This tiger wants more.
Stanzas Two and Three
Then!—what a hoot and yell
upon the jungle fell
The rhinoceros rasped!
and wisely wearing
what’s fierce as the face,
not whiteness and lace!”
The second stanza is the shortest of the poem. In it, the speaker describes the reactions of a few of the animals. They fainted, rasped, gasped, and were completely surprised by the tiger’s actions. The poet disregards any realistic grouping of animals, preferring to add in any animal that seems right, from wolf to leopard to antelope. They all had different, yet equally shocked reactions. They don’t like the white gloves the tiger has chosen. They are “for girls / with manners and curls” not for tigers, they say.
The speaker/s say that it is nature’s rule that fierce tigers can’t wear white gloves. They have a nature that shouldn’t be messed with. This is where the main theme of the poem comes into play. These lines allude to larger trouble with the way that society perceives certain groups and how they should or should not act.
They shamed him and shamed him—
till none could have blamed him,
when at last, with a sigh
with his lashing tail
with his strong striped hide.
The final stanza is twelve lines long and features the dejected tiger being shamed. Brooks uses repetition in these lines to describe this process and mimic how it wore the tiger down. Eventually, “with a sigh / and a saddened eye” he “took off each glove”. He gave in to the pressure of the world, “none could have blamed him”. He tries to be content with what he has despite his desire to become more than what the world defines him as.