• Reading Level 5
English | Science | Geography | Modern Foreign Languages | Art & Design | PSHE

Hidden meaning of The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Is it literature or just a great story? The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr will become a TV film, with an all-star cast, this Christmas. Critics say it is a powerfully symbolic tale. "He ate all the supper that was cooking in the saucepans...and all the food in the fridge...and all the packets and tins in the cupboard." These comfortingly familiar words have been read aloud in millions of childhood bedrooms for more than 50 years. And, this Christmas, they will enter our living rooms in a new television adaptation of Judith Kerr's classic children's book, The Tiger Who Came to Tea. The short film, which tells the story of a young girl stuck at home on a rainy day and a tiger with an insatiableImpossible to satisfy. appetite, features an all-star cast including Benedict Cumberbatch, Tamsin Grieg and David Oyelowo. "They all loved the book, had read it to their kids, so they said 'yes' straightaway," explains producer Ruth Fielding. The Tiger Who Came to Tean is not just a much-loved children's book. For decades, it has provided a rich ground for literary critics to debate the symbolism of the charming, menacing and, above all, very hungry tiger. Many have fixated on the invasion of the tiger into the family home as an allegoryA story or poem that has a hidden moral or political meaning.  for life under the Nazis. Kerr's family fled Germany in 1933 after her father, a prominent Jewish theatre critic, was placed on a Nazi death list. The experience gave rise to Kerr's semi-autobiographical story When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. "Judith knows about dangerous people who come to your house and take people away," argued children's author Michael Rosen. However, evidence suggests that the late author, who died in May aged 95, did not share these lofty interpretations. "I remember asking Judith Kerr if the tiger symbolised the 1960s sexual revolution, where normal mores and suburban life became upended by this wild and exotic creature," recalls newsreader Emily Maitlis. "She told me 'no', it was about a tiger coming to tea." Robin Shaw, who is directing the new film, agrees. "You don't have to put any deeper meaning into it. There's no sort of moralistic or developmental story arc applied," he said. The word "literature" comes from the Latin "litaritura", meaning "writing formed with letters". For hundreds of years, the term encompassed pretty much anything written down. It was only in the Romantic Period that the idea that true literature must be "imaginative" - with artistic, intellectual value - started to evolve. Is The Tiger Who Came to Tea literature or just a great story? A roaring success? It's a great story and it doesn't need to be anything more, argue some. Kerr herself repeatedly resisted attempts by high-minded critics to impose symbolic meanings on her story of a tiger and a little girl. Are we so conceitedToo vain or proud.  that we need to prove that something is intellectual in order to allow ourselves to enjoy it? What's wrong with a classic, well-written story? But, according to reader-response theory, the author's supposed intention doesn't really matter. There is a reason why the book has been so appealing to literary critics: it is rife with enigmatic symbolism, with childhood grief, and with Freudian tensions between pleasure and fear. This is great literature in its purest form, whether the author acknowledged it or not. KeywordsInsatiable - Impossible to satisfy.

Continue Reading

The Day is an independent, online, subscription-based news publication for schools, focusing on the big global issues beneath the headlines. Our dedicated newsroom writes news, features, polls, quizzes, translations… activities to bring the wider world into the classroom. Through the news we help children and teachers develop the thinking, speaking and writing skills to build a better world. Our stories are a proven cross-curricular resource published at five different reading levels for ages 5 to 19. The Day has a loyal and growing membership in over 70 countries and its effectiveness is supported by case studies and teacher endorsements.

Start your free trial Already have an account? Log in / register