Sometimes, the weight of past mistakes feels too heavy for a single person to endure. Sharon Draper’s fictional novel, Tears of a Tiger, is dedicated to exploring this concept. It is a morbid and tragic story of a young man who ruined his life by making just one poor decision. The book shows just how fragile our conventional realities are, and how life could take a 180-degree turn after just one misstep.
Many young people think of themselves as invincible, immortal even. The tragedy that occurs at the very beginning of the story intends to remind us all about the idea of death, the destructive nature of survivor’s guilt and the fact that suicide is not a way to solve problems as it does not end the suffering, but instead expands it to everyone else.
Evolution of a Character throughout the Story
The main character in Tears of a Tiger is Andrew Jackson, so it would a good idea to analyze his character progression throughout the story. Through his example, we could see a slow and painful degradation due to a severe case of depression. Andy starts out as a typical school jock. He is handsome, fit, relatively good at sports, and popular with girls. He does not think too much about anything, his greatest worry being his score in a basketball game and his greatest aspiration – to be scouted for college ball (Draper, 1994). However, the car crash and the death of his best friend Robbie change the boy completely.
The world around him becomes gray and bleak, his previous desires and inspirations do not matter much anymore. Due to depression, he abandons the basketball team and becomes weary and twitchy. Andy turns from a kind-hearted fellow into an abusive bully. He is constantly suffering from survivor’s guilt and feels like he is trapped – something he mentions upon witnessing the picture of a crying tiger imprisoned within a cage (Draper, 1994). He feels angry with himself and that anger is spread to others, including those who try to help and support him. Andy’s relationship with Keisha is terminated because of that – she could no longer comply with his aggressive demands for attention.
Despite the fact everybody was trying to help Andy, they only managed to slow down his descent into depression – he was like a snowball rolling down the hill, growing bigger and bigger. His suicide was a logical conclusion of his sad and painful journey. Perhaps it was too early for him to go; perhaps it was an impulsive decision. However, I felt it was inevitable. The hints were too obvious and the efforts made to divert Andy from this destructive path did not help much.
The Antagonist of the Story and his Punishment
Many books tend to have an antagonist of some kind to present a challenge for the hero to overcome. The antagonist is often a stereotypical villain that commits evil for the sake of being evil. It is up for the brave and morally superior hero to defeat the villain, save the day, and bring the story to a happy ending. In Tears of a Tiger, there is no designated antagonist. There is no happy ending either. Andrew Jackson is the main hero of the book. Everyone involved in the story is either his friends or relatives that try to help him on his way to recovery.
So, who is the villain here then? The answer is – nobody. Andy’s greatest enemy is himself. After the car crash and Robbie’s death, he came to hate and blame himself for that tragedy. Throughout the story, he expressed a desire to suffer and die, in order to repent for what happened to Robbie. It was a classic case of survivor’s guilt. It gnawed and burned the boy from the inside, as he explained to us in the text. Eventually, the pain became too much to handle.
During that brief moment when he felt it the worst and there was nobody around to help, Andy made the decision to end his life. Did his crime deserve such suffering? No, it did not. The problem with the concept of “an eye for an eye” is that everyone around would end up blind. His death did not bring Robbie or his parents any consolation or satisfaction. It only brought more pain. The aftermath of Andy’s death shows us that suicide solves nothing.
Part of the Novel would be the Hardest for me to write?
If I were an author of this book, I think it would have been the hardest for me to describe Andy’s slow descent into depression that culminated in his suicide. I have a few reasons to explain this. I believe that an author should write only about something he or she knows and understands or has personal experience. I never had any serious depressions. I never had any suicidal inclinations nor did I ever understand suicide. I think it is just a wrong and selfish thing to do. Every suicide leaves behind a grieving family.
More often than not, they did nothing to deserve this. Some authors claim they have a talent of getting into the mindset of other people, but how could they be sure they are getting it right? How could I write about something that I never experienced or understood? To me, it would be similar to writing a research paper in astrophysics. The best I would be able to do is read through other peoples’ works pertaining to the subject and attempt to recreate what I read and saw to the best of my ability.
I might write it well, however, it would never evolve beyond being a rephrased copy. A replica could never outperform original thought. Perhaps the readers would find my writings to be insightful. However, most of the readers are regular people, like me. They never attempted to take their own life, so they would be in no position to tell if my writing was accurate or not. The people who know first-hand about suicide are mostly dead, and those who are not would not need a book to tell them about it.
A Personal Experience similar to that of a Character in the Book
I cannot say I had an experience in my life that could even approach the experiences of the characters in Tears of a Tiger. The story is full of grief, hardship, and tragedy. I lived a relatively sheltered life, which was not besmirched by any remarkably grim situations. I think the only experience I had was close to that which Keisha had with Andy during his depression following the aftermath of the car crash. My experience could hardly compare, but I think it had some conceptual similarities to the events described in the book.
Keisha and Andy’s relationship to one another after the tragedy could be called as an abusive friendship. In normal friendships people give and receive equally, be that help or emotional support. In their case, Keisha was all about giving, and Andy was all about receiving. Such a relationship could not last for very long – the girl had a big heart, but even her emotional strength had its limits. I used to have a friend that depended too much on me. Our relationship largely revolved around me helping him through various troubles.
I thought it was kind and generous of me to do so at first, but eventually I grew weary of it. I did not gain anything from such a friendship, I just kept giving until there was little left to give. I was depleted both physically and emotionally. It caused me to terminate that friendship, which was a hard thing to do. I do not blame Andy for needing Keisha’s help. I do not blame her for breaking up with Andy either. She simply did not have anything left to give.
Which Character would I like to have as a Friend?
I would have liked to be friends with Keisha. I think she is the most likeable and enduring character of the story. Some people may say that she betrayed Andy by breaking up with him, but I think this is a false conclusion. I think Keisha can be a true friend. Out of everyone involved in the story, she is the one who went through for Andy the most. She endured his abuse and his mood swings for much longer than I would have expected anyone else to endure. I would not really hold this “betrayal” against her. We are all human, after all.
Each and every one of us has limits. The poor girl simply exhausted hers. As I mentioned in the previous section, I am familiar with the kind of relationships where it is all giving and not receiving. Friendships, like any healthy relationships, are a two-way street. I was greatly impressed by the amount of endurance and patience she had for Andy. After all, she was not his spouse or his bride.
Keisha was just a girlfriend. What she did for him went well and beyond the call of duty. Even after they broke up, she never stopped caring for Andy. I think that she was not through with him, not really – she just needed a little break from the soul-draining relationship they had. I am certain that after a little bit of time she would have returned and continued to help him through, even at her own expense. Keisha has a very big heart. If all my friends were like her, I would have been the happiest person in the world.
An Obituary for Andy
Andrew Jackson, 17 years of age, was found dead in his home. His mother and brother were the ones who found the body. It was concluded that the boy had ended his life by shooting himself with a gun. This tragedy is the second one to strike this peaceful and homely community since the death of Robert Washington, age 17, in a car crash. Having been at the wheel that day, the boy suffered from a severe case of depression and survivor guilt, which were the causes of his suicide. Andrew attended Hazelwood High School. He was an amazing athlete.
Under his captainship, the Hazelwood Tigers won many victories and brought glory to his school. His team will remember him as a strong player, an excellent leader, and a good friend. The boy had a cloudless and promising future ahead of himself. He had a potential to make career in basketball. He was a bright fellow, with above average grades and a positive attitude towards learning.
Kind, outgoing and friendly, he will be sorely missed by his family, his friends, his teachers, and his classmates. His death was a tragic mistake. It could never be undone. Nevertheless, in our hearts and our minds he would forever remain as the smiling and cheerful young teenager we all knew and loved. Andy’s funeral will be held at the local cemetery, a week after this publication. The memorial service will take place on the next day. Andrew’s family cordially invites everyone who knew Andrew Jackson to come to the ceremony, to say your final goodbyes. It would mean a great deal for them.
Songs that could relate to Andy
One of the songs that could be related to Andy and his unfortunate fate is the song called Goodbye (I’m Sorry), by Jamestown Story. It is a song that takes form of a suicide note. It explains on vague terms the reasons behind a person’s suicide. The reason why it could be related to Tears of a Tiger is because of the lyrics. They project a feeling of worthlessness and support a foolish thought that a person’s life is worth nothing and that nobody would miss them if they gone (Story, 2003). In the book, Andy thought the same.
Another song that could relate to the tragedy described in the book is the song called Sweet Old World by Lucinda Williams. Unlike the previous tune, this one addresses all the things Andy left behind, the happy life he could have had – the smiles of parents and friends, and a warm embrace of a lover (Williams, 1992). Keisha could have been that lover for him, had he not pulled the trigger.
The third song, called Thinking of You by Sa-fire, would be a perfect illustration of Andy’s feelings after his friend’s death. The song is very sorrowful, both in tune and in lyrics. It relays the feelings of anger, mourning and loss that the young boy carried within himself ever since the day of the tragedy (DeSalvo & Steele, 1989). It leaves the listened with a heavy feeling under the heart. Andy’s life after the tragedy must have been like listening to this song repeatedly, slowly succumbing to the depressive mood it brings. Andy’s tragedy of losing his best friend was only intensified by the acknowledgment of his own guilt.
Poem dedicated to the book Tears of the Tiger
The flash of a shot, the thunder of gun,
A quick, dreadful moment of terrible pain
I’m over and done, there’s nowhere to run
Things will never be the same for me again.
I felt a twinge of regret in my head
The moment my finger pulled on the trigger
But it is too late, I am already dead
My body count is increased by one more figure
I was all alone, or so I had thought
The moment when nobody answered my calls
I wished to escape all the pain that I wrought
It does ebb away with the light, darkness falls
Goodbye mom and dad, goodbye little brother
I’m cutting away at the ropes of my net
And Keisha, I hope that you will find a lover
So please, understand, forgive and forget.
DeSalvo, R., & Steele, B. (1989). Thinking of you. On Sa-fire [CD]. Chicago, IL: Mercury Records.
Draper, S. (1994). Tears of a tiger. New York, NY: Atheneum.
Story, J. (2003). Goodbye (I’m sorry). On Broken summer [CD]. Duluth, MN: Soul-free Music.
Williams, L. (1992). Sweet old world. On Sweet old world [CD]. Los-Angeles, CA: Chameleon.