Tiger at the Gates

by Jean Giraudoux

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Characters Discussed

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Hector, the leader of the Trojan army and son of King Priam, a warrior who understands the costs as well as the attractions of war. Having just returned from the bloody battlefield, he now longs for peace. He is strong, not only physically but also morally, believing in life and responding to all that is natural and good. His overwhelming desire to shut the Gates of War enables him to bend others—Priam, Helen, Paris, and even the Greek Ulysses—to his will. He is determined and confident enough to ignore insults on the way to creating peace. Because of his youth, however, he does not realize that it may be easier to control an army than to control the illogical, emotional behavior of a single individual or to alter fate.


Andromache (an-DRAH-mah-kee), Hector’s wife, his match in wisdom, moral strength, and desire for peace. As a woman, she sees only the loss and tragedy of war, and she is unable to understand why poets find glory in death and destruction. She believes in love and honesty, and she laments the fact that hypocrisy, not honor, breeds war. She most regrets that if the war occurs, it will be fought for lovers who do not really love each other.


Helen, the wife of Menelaus, a king of Greece. She represents external beauty and is incapable of any deep feeling. She cares only for things that are vivid or bright enough to catch her attention, and nothing holds her attention long. In many ways, she is the most complicated figure in the play. It is all too easy to characterize her as shallow, as just a pretty face. She is that, but she is more. In her own, admittedly rather self-centered way, she is as much a visionary as Cassandra. A creature of fate, she is also stoic. She readily accepts what must happen. She knows she is hated by the Trojan women, yet she ignores this because there is nothing she can do about it. She does not worry because her beauty will fade and she will grow old. She has no pity for anyone, not even herself.


Demokos, a poet and the leader of the Trojan senate, infatuated with words and images. Those of beauty, blood, courage, honor, glory, and war inspire him. He creates war songs that he hopes will turn men savage. He is an evil man and a bad poet.


Hecuba (HEH-kyuh-buh), Priam’s wife, who is caustic and cynical about love, beauty, men, and women. Both clever and realistic, she matches Demokos in a battle of words and insults, proving herself superior. She believes that old men should fight the wars.


Priam (PRI-am), the king of Troy, the father of Hector and Paris, and one of the old men who follow Helen. He leaves the leadership of the army and even the country to Hector, warning him, however, that peace can be dangerous.


Ulysses (yew-LIH-sees), a Greek warrior and diplomat, Hector’s counterpart. When the two meet to decide whether war or peace will prevail, he proves more articulate and wiser in both the ways of diplomacy and the ways of the world. He sees the human folly that leads to war, and although he works with Hector to prevent war, he warns Hector that all cunning may be useless in a fight against destiny.


Paris, Hector’s younger brother, handsome, shallow, and flighty. He stole Helen after seeing her swimming naked. He is a male counterpart to Helen, moving from one woman to...

(This entire section contains 757 words.)

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the next because he loves the sensations of romance: first attraction, then consummation, next the tears and tragedy of separation, and finally a search for the next love. Both he and Helen are concerned only with their own feelings; each needs new sensations continually to provide stimulation.


Ajax, a captain in the Greek army, blunt, aggressive, and hard-drinking. Although he initially believes that Hector is a coward, he comes to admire Hector’s moral strength and realizes that the two, as warriors, have more in common than citizens who stand by urging a war they will never have to fight.


Cassandra, Hector’s sister, a blind prophetess. She insists that her prophecies are not visions but simply predictions based on her knowledge of human nature and of fate. Her warnings follow the movement of events toward their inexorable end: The complacency of Troy will cause the waking of the tiger who has been sleeping at the gates.




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