In Thomas Wolfe's carefully constructed short story, "The Child by Tiger," excerpts from William Blake's poem "Tiger" and the King James Bible enrich the central themes of the plot. Although "The Child by Tiger" is very cryptic in revealing its purpose, several important concepts may be inspected to aid the reader in discovering Wolfe's meaning. The stirring first stanza of "Tiger," chosen by Wolfe to precede his story, braces the reader for the darker imagery to follow. The vivid words of Blake's poem are put to work as underlying themes in "The Child by Tiger," including images of darkness, shadows, fear, and the fire-like burn of the tiger's eye that haunts the rest of the plot. It is in this imagery that perhaps Wolfe's primary theme is founded: what is human nature and what are its capabilities for both good and evil?.
The character Dick Prosser is upon introduction a deeply religious, gentle, and multi-talented man. Almost immediately in the story, Wolfe begins a consistent reference to Dick as very cat-like in nature, drawing on his cunning prowess, speed, and agility. It can thus be gathered that the tiger illustrated in Blake's poem is symbolic of Dick. The narrator paints an illustrious image of Dick Prosser in the early stages of the story, creating an instant admiration for what the reader first believes to be the protagonist; however, it is soon noted that Dick "went too softly, at too swift a pace", marring the seemingly flawless character and casting a shadow of doubt over the almost-hero. Comparing Dick to a shadow or something "moving in the night," both disturbs the reader and causes one to question first impressions. Night, darkness, and shadows emerge as crucial themes, once again drawing their power from the introductory stanza from "Tiger." All information held from the reader is purposefully concealed or blurred by darkness, suggesting a shadow over human nature.