What part does coincidence play in the short story "The Child By Tiger"?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Child By Tiger, Dick Prosser is the African-American servant of the Shepperton family. Prosser' story is based on the real life story of Will Harris, who murdered three blacks and two whites in Asheville, North Carolina in 1906. As with Prosser, Will Harris was eventually hunted down, brutally shot, and his bullet-ridden body hung up in a store-front window.

So, what part does coincidence play in the short story? I would like to discuss with you the one place coincidence is displayed in the story. It involves Prosser's Bible, opened face-downward at the 23rd Psalm. On the surface, this might be a coincidence. However, even if it isn't, Prosser's action highlights some pretty interesting things about the man.

After Prosser's death, the narrator enters the black man's room with his friend, Randy, and his father, Mr. Shepperton. They find Prosser's Bible left opened at the place where he had last read: it is the 23rd Psalm. One of the most telling passages is verse 4, which reads, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me..." Earlier, we are told about the strange, last moments of the man before he dies from multiple gunshot wounds. When cornered at the creek, Prosser does not try to swim away to freedom.

Instead, he sat down calmly on the bank and, as quietly as if he were seated on his cot in an Army barracks, he unlaced his shoes, took them off, placed them together neatly at his side, and then stood up like a soldier, erect, in his bare, bleeding feet, and faced the mob.

Armed with strong religious fervor, Prosser is convinced that the white man would soon meet his Armageddon. The image of Prosser at the bank of the creek is strongly reminiscent of a black Messiah facing persecution and sure death for the crime of bringing judgment on all he considers evil. Ironically, the 'coincidence' of Prosser's Bible turned to the 23rd Psalm serves to reinforce Prosser's deliberate, precisely ordered, and disciplined character. The narrator earlier informs us of the joy of watching Prosser split kindling and how the wood is stacked with 'regimented faultlessness.'

Every stick he cut seemed to be exactly the same length and shape as every other one...

To summarize, the author uses the supposed coincidence of Prosser's opened Bible (marked at a specific Psalm) to

1) Highlight Prosser's highly disciplined character. His Bible is turned to the exact verse he uses to justify his actions and to instil in him the courage to endure the consequences of his actions.

2) Show that Prosser's 'strange' actions at the creek are a deliberate decision.