Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Time the Tiger” is a study of friendships tested and demolished by political pressures, the interplay among political beliefs, social class, personality, and nostalgia. As the petty bureaucratic supporter of the Socialist regime, Mark is presented as a repressive type, a self-denier and a stoic, a man who is moral (that is, conformist) out of sheer lack of imagination: “Where Mark would be apt to respect the most pernicious by-law, Charles would be quite certain to break it.” Mark dutifully submits to regulation and has rationalized the social need for such submission, whereas Charles defies and defames the new order. In opposition to Mark’s self-denial, Charles would be self-indulgent, if he were not so broke. Mark is law-abiding, Charles, the black marketeer and free marketeer, is an outlaw. These opposing characteristics represent the standard dramatization of the antagonism between public and private, collectivist and individualist sensibilities, Mark and Charles representing the progressive Socialist mass and the beleaguered elite, respectively.

Mark is comically naïve, but Charles is comically selfish. Mark can envision a future, and his Socialist idealism buffers him a bit from the sordid bumps and bruises of actual life, but Charles despairs of his chances in this new society and longs for the halcyon era of class privileges. Mark’s naïveté sets him up for the reversal delivered at the climax of the tale by Ida’s metamorphosis from timeless sweetheart to time-bound ideological foe: The transition to the new social order will not be as seamless as he dreams. At this point, Charles and Ida Dyat merge in a composite portrait of petty conservatism: They are reactionaries motivated by self-interest, by the losses of power and prestige that they must suffer under the ongoing Socialist upheavals. The future appears to be Mark’s, but with a distinct sense that Mark has acquiesced, and forgotten his own acquiescence, to a life of “second best.” Moreover, his new world must be purchased at the price of the collapse of his old connections.