The story The Tiger King, ends this way:

On that day father and son played with that tiny little wooden tiger. It had been carved by an unskilled carpenter. Its surface was rough; tiny slivers of wood stood up like quills all over it. One of those slivers pierced the Maharaja's right hand. He pulled it out with his left hand and continued to play with the prince. The next day, infection flaired in Maharaja's right hand. In four days, it developed into a suppurating sore which spread all over the arm. Three famous surgeons were brought in from Madras. After holding a consultation they decided to operate. The operation took place. The three surgeons who performed it came out of the theatre and announced, "The operation was successful. The Maharaja is dead."

How does the bolded text make sense?

2 Answers 2


Actually in English usage it’s an old joke about over-aggressive surgeons:


The phrase “The operation was a success but the patient died” turns up quite a few Google links on surgery, patient care, and the like.

A search for “The Tiger King”, however, reveals that this is a story about the arrogance of power: ironically, the king who kills tigers is brought down by a sliver from a wooden toy tiger.


The surgeons are suggesting that the Maharaja dying was the outcome they were actually trying to achieve, not make him well. Getting a person well would be the outcome one would normally presume surgeons operating are trying to achieve. In this instance, though, they're suggesting that getting him well was not the outcome they were trying to achieve but what they really wanted was for him to die. That's how it makes sense.

  • 1
    But why would they want that? Conspiring the Maharaja's death is not the context of the story.. it ought to have another interpretation.
    – Rew
    Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 3:55
  • And it does. Is this homework?
    – Xanne
    Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 9:18

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