Study Guide

Tears of a Tiger Analysis

  • Tone


    Reading this book makes us want to cry. Literally. We're talking buckets of tears. It's not just that it's about super sad topics like drunk driving and teen suicide; it's also the way it's written. Death doesn't pop out of nowhere in this book, it haunts it through the book's depressing tone. Almost all of the characters deal with huge emotions in some way, and it seems like no one in the book can escape from immense pain and heavy emotions.

    In fact, when their English teacher asks them what Macbeth means, B.J. says:

    Life is short, and then you die. And on top of that, life don't really mean nothin' anyway. But I think the only reason that he was so depressed was because he had been the cause of so much death that he couldn't find nothin' else good about livin'. (23.14)

    Macbeth is dark and all, but this is a seriously grim reading—way to bring us down, B.J. This negative outlook crops up a lot of places in the book. But then again, the story is practically bookended by death, so we're not really sure what else we could've expected.

  • Genre

    Young Adult

    Whether you bought this book in your local book shop, picked it up at the library downtown, or downloaded it onto an e-reader, we know exactly where you found it: the young adult lit section.

    To be clear, this isn't because we're major creeps and spying on you—it's just that Tears of a Tiger is such classic YA that there's really no other place you might find it. It's a story told by teens, about teen issues, and oriented toward teen readers. And that, Shmoopers, is YA classic.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    Wait a minute… Tears of a Tiger? Last time we checked, tigers don't cry. So what's the deal with the title? It comes from Andy's conversation with his little brother, Monty. But that's all we're going to tell you here. For the full scoop, please hop on over to the "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" section, where we unpack this soggy fuzz-ball of a title in all its glory.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    In the end, Andy decides there's no point in living any more and kills himself. It's a rough ending, especially since we root for him and want him to survive. At the same time, though, it's an ending we totally see coming as we watch Andy lose hope and convince himself that he's all alone in the world.

    Remember when Andy looks at the crash site and almost jumps off the road to the cars below? The only thing stopping him is Keisha—she pulls him back and tells him not to do it. Another time, Andy talks about killing himself in therapy and his psychologist gets him to open up a bit, assuring Andy that he's there for him, day or night.

    So when Andy reaches out for help and can't reach Keisha and his therapist (as well as his coach), we understand that his suicide-prevention support isn't available. And because of this, we get the sense that he's going to kill himself.

    Adding to the bummer, of course, is how, well, bummed everyone is after Andy dies. His friends are confused; his parents split up; and Keisha is angry. It turns out a whole lot of people cared about Andy, so he doesn't just end his life—he changes theirs for the worse as well.

  • Setting

    Hazelwood High School

    Tears of a Tiger takes place at Hazelwood High, a fictitious high school that does a very good job of coming across like it could be pretty much any high school in America. Draper is vague with the details about where things take place, making it easy for readers to relate to the story as it unfolds. The only truly defining characteristic is that there's snow on the ground. So, you know, we're not in the South.

    But while there are basketball games and talent shows and other ordinary high school stuff to be found at Hazelwood High, there are also big, traumatic events, including a fatal drunk-driving car accident and a student suicide. The setting, then, contributes to the story in two ways: It reminds us that though high school students are young, they're still dealing with major life issues, and it also makes it super clear that the trouble at Hazelwood can happen anywhere.

  • What's Up With the Epigraph?

    A man shrieks in pain
    Crying to the universe. Panic is abrupt.

    The book starts out with a poem, which is fitting considering how many poems or creative writing pieces there are throughout the novel. When we hear that someone "shrieks" we're not exactly sure what's being referred to—but we soon find out with the newspaper article that follows.

    The poem is a little preview of what's to come with the accident. Robbie gets trapped and all his friends hear him shrieking inside the burning car, unable to do anything to help him. All Robbie's friends can do is cry. The accident—the moment of "panic"—comes out of nowhere and changes their lives forever.

    It's a pretty morbid way to kick off the book, but it clues us in to the fact that the book is going to deal with tough issues like death and anger, even before we so much as meet a single character.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (2) Sea Level

    Andy and his friends are just like us, which makes this story pretty easy to read—we get what the characters are feeling because we can see bits of ourselves in them. Plus, the book's written the way high school students speak, so once you get used to figuring out who's talking (the chapters jump back and forth to different characters' perspectives), it's easy to follow along.

  • Writing Style

    Conversational and Open

    Doesn't it feel like we're just chilling with Andy and his pals? That's probably because the writing style is uncomplicated and conversational, which makes this book a very quick read. The first line of dialogue is a great example of Draper's writing style:

    Hey, Rob! Live game, man. You be flyin' with the hoops, man! Swoosh! Ain't nobody better, 'cept maybe me. (2.1)

    It is straightforward, open, and it sounds like it came from the mouth of a teenager. While the writing switches back and forth between speakers and mediums (essay, letter, poem, and such), it is kept conversational, with youthful and light language.

    The narrative also jumps around from character to character, giving us different perspectives on the story as it unfolds. For more on this, be sure to check out the "Narrator Point of View" section.

  • Tiger

    It's in the title… It's the final chapter… It's in Monty's drawing. What's that? Tigers, of course. And since they show up all over the place, well, you just know they're important in this book. Rawr.

    We first hear about a tiger in Andy's conversation with his little brother, Monty. In school, Monty draws a picture of a tiger crying, and when his teacher asks him about it, he "told her he was very sad. Like you get sometime" (28.20). The tiger, then, is a symbol for Andy. So much so, in fact, that we discuss this in depth in Andy's analysis over in the "Characters" section. To dig deep, be sure to check that out. The short story here, though, is this: Tigers are mighty, but in the zoo they're caged, and Andy is mighty, but now he's trapped by his guilt.

    The tiger doesn't just represent Andy, though; it also represents his whole school. Why's that? Because his high school mascot is the Hazelwood Tigers. When Robbie dies (and later when Andy kills himself), the entire school is sad—there are tears on all of the tigers.

    Later, we hear Monty talk about the tiger again when he visits his brother's grave and says: "But I'll always love you, and I'll always miss you, and I'll never forget that it's okay to put dragons in the jungle and tears on a tiger" (45.5). Here, then, we see Monty understanding that sadness and weakness are not the same thing—that mightiness and strength can coexist with sadness. It's a hopeful thing to see since Andy's just failed to find the strength to carry himself through his own grief.

    Looked at collectively, then, we can understand tigers as representing humans and our capacity to heal. Andy's high school grieves and rallies together to move forward, and so, too, does Monty. Andy's the only tiger who never finds a way out of his cage of sadness.

  • Black and White

    There's a lot of talk about race in this book—we dig into it over in the "Themes" section—but here we want to talk about how black and white are used to create imagery throughout Andy's experiences, and especially in his English class. In fact, he even asks his teacher about what the colors mean in literature. Here's his teacher's response:

    I'm not sure, Andy, but it certainly is apparent in literature. I don't think it's completely racially motivated, however. The tones of black and white have the greatest amount of contrast between them, therefore writers and poets, who have always dealt with extremes in passion and people, use black and white to create those images of contrast. (19.32)

    You know what this makes us think of? The contrast between Andy and his family. They are all black, but Andy is majorly concerned about their investments in whiteness. It's a source of major tension between Andy and his dad, as well as something he's concerned about when it comes to Monty, who's only six-years-old (more on this in the "Characters" section). What matters symbolically, though, isn't the racial elements, but instead the difference this creates between Andy and his family.

    The differing relationships to white culture that Andy and his family possess are not directly connected to his suicide. They are, however, part of why Andy doesn't feel understood by his family, particularly his parents. And this is part of why he doesn't turn to them in his hour of need. His ideas of how to be black and how to relate to whiteness are one of many things Andy simply doesn't have in common with his mom and dad.

  • Five-Dollar Bill

    This is just a little symbol, but when Gerald writes down what he wants to change about the world, five-dollar bills come to mind. This wouldn't exactly be on the top of our list, but let's listen to his reasons. He writes:

    With a five-dollar bill, Andy and the guys bought a six-pack of beer. They ended up buying five dollars worth of death. It seems like all a five spot can do is buy trouble, so I'd get rid of five-dollar bills. (9.4)

    Ah, symbolism. Gerald doesn't care so much about the cash as he does about what you can do with that cash. For him, a five-dollar bill represents everything that's bad about the decisions people make. His stepdad uses them before he hits his kids, and Andy used it to get the beer that made them crash. In Gerald's mind, then, five-dollar bills represent more trouble than they are worth.

  • Macbeth

    In English class, Andy's class has been reading Macbeth, so their teacher asks them what they all think of it. Together, they read a quote from the play:

    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

    This quote is about the darkness of life, and the class decides it means that life is no longer meaningful in any way. In fact, when the teacher asks them what Macbeth means, B.J. answers by saying:

    Life is short, and then you die. And on top of that, life don't really mean nothin' anyway. But I think the only reason that he was so depressed was because he had been the cause of so much death that he couldn't find nothin' else good about livin'. (23.14)

    Sound like anyone you know? Yeah… it sounds a whole lot like Andy. Andy, like Macbeth, kills his friend. Unlike Macbeth, though, Andy does it by accident instead of to become king. Unfortunately, though, this difference is completely lost on Andy, and instead he sees himself as being just as terrible as Macbeth is. In this way, Macbeth becomes a symbol for just how terrible Andy believes himself to be—and, because of this, a reminder of how misguided Andy is in this assessment.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Central Narrator)—Multiple Perspectives

    In a bit of a twist on classic first-person narration, instead of hanging out with one character throughout Tears of a Tiger, we hear from most of the main characters at some point. Andy, Gerald, B.J., Keisha, Rhonda, Tyrone, and Monty all voice a chapter or two, which means we really get to know what's going down in Hazelwood High instead of only hearing the story from Andy's perspective. Which is good, because Andy isn't seeing things quite right—plus, he'd be a major bummer to spend an entire book with. So go team.

    • Plot Analysis


      Celebrate Good Times

      When Robbie and Andy win their school's basketball game, it's party time. They might be in high school, but they manage to get their hands on some beer, then hit the open road to see what happens. With this, the stage is set for tragedy: Drinking and driving never go well together. But off the boys head anyway, high on their victory while we wait for the fiasco that inevitably awaits them. 

      Rising Action

      Up in Flames

      Andy crashes the car into a wall and he, B.J., and Tyrone have enough time to get out before it bursts into flames. As for Robbie? They can hear him screaming inside, but can't get him out, so he dies. This is tough on all the guys, but it's especially hard for Andy, who feels responsible since he was driving the car and shouldn't have been drinking. Plus, his whole life is complicated now: His best friend is dead, his license is gone, and he doesn't care if he lives or dies. Yep, we'd say that's complicated all right.


      Like a Candle in the Wind

      As Andy tries to move on and put the accident behind him, his mood goes up and down a lot. He sees a psychologist and works out some of his anger, but then he's reminded of Robbie and all the fun times they had at Christmas when he sees Santa. The breaking point comes one day in English class when they're talking about Macbeth. Their teacher points out a speech that talks about life being meaningless, a feeling Andy increasingly identifies with. He's in major crisis at this point, and no longer interested in fixing himself.

      Falling Action

      All by Myself

      Keisha gets sick of Andy's mood swings and drama, so she dumps him. One night, Andy feels super alone and depressed, though, so he calls her up, only to get her mom on the phone, who tells him Keisha is already asleep. Then Andy calls his psychologist and his coach, neither of who answer. Andy feels like he has no friends and nowhere to turn, so he decides to kill himself.

      Does suicide seem like it should be the climax? We totally get why you might think that—it's a pretty major event. But in this book, Andy's suicide is something we've kind of been waiting for, something that's set in motion earlier in the book as Andy toys around with the idea. So when he actually resigns himself to following through, we're actually starting to wrap up loose threads—the point of no return (a.k.a. the climax) precedes this, when Andy loses all interest in fixing his life.


      Grave Matters

      The book ends on a sad note, with the characters trying to deal with the aftermath of Andy's death. His friends are confused and angry and frustrated that he chose this pain for them, and some of them even call him a coward. Even though we don't get a neat little bow at the end with a happy ending, we certainly get a resolution. Andy is no longer bouncing back and forth between ending his life or not, and everyone else is learning to deal with life without him around.