What are the character traits of the princess in "The Lady or the Tiger?" by Frank R. Stockton?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The princess of Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?" is like her father, semi-barbaric.  Therefore, she is possessive of some rather cruel traits in her barbaric "enthusiasm" such as having "a soul as fervent and imperious" as her father's.  When she sees her lover with a maiden, the princess has her pride offended and is enraged and jealous as well: 

she loved him with an ardor that had enough of barbarism in it to make it exceedingly warm and strong.

Yet, because he was such a "grand youth" it was "no wonder" that the princess loves him and agonizes when she sees him with another.  But, because she is barbaric, she attends the "trial" because she is able to handle the cruelty of the event.  And, because she has power and influence, and "force of character," the princess has learned the secret of behind which door the tiger waits; in addition, she is aware of who the maiden is that waits behind the other door.  With her jealous nature, this maiden the princess hates with

all the intensity of the savage blood transmitted to her through long lines of wholly barbaric ancestors....

Semi-barbaric, powerful, passionate, intense, jealous--the princess  is possessive of complex and often conflicting traits that are at the center of the tension of the plot of Stockton's story.

teachsuccess's profile pic

teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Indeed, the princess is as beautiful as she is passionate. Yet, by all indications, she can also be perceived as arrogant, self-centered, and cold-hearted.

As a royal princess in her father's kingdom, she lives a privileged life. Thus, she thinks nothing of taking on a commoner as a lover, despite a possible royal decree against such alliances. When her father discovers the romance, he immediately throws the hapless young man into prison. Because he has dared to love a princess, the young man will be subjected to the king's unique trial. For her part, the princess appears to be indifferent to the consequences of her own actions.

Although it can be inferred that a princess in her position might have pleaded for leniency for her lover, the text does not provide any evidence for this. What the text does tell us is that she attends the trial because her barbaric nature revels in the gratuitous nature of the trial.

Had it not been for the moiety of barbarism in her nature it is probable that lady would not have been there, but her intense and fervid soul would not allow her to be absent on an occasion in which she was so terribly interested.

She is also interested in the proceedings because she believes that, in the end, she will decide her lover's fate. Due to her resourceful nature (this time, a positive character trait), the princess has discovered which doors the tiger and beautiful maiden stand behind. At the trial, her lover knows without a shadow of a doubt that his princess has knowledge which may very well save him.

However, the text tells us that the princess is conflicted about her choices. If she saves her lover from a gruesome death, he will make a very satisfying marriage with a beautiful maiden, a repugnant development. If, however, she lets the tiger have him, he will die a horrible death before her eyes. Notice how she coldly calculates the benefits of a gristly death for her lover:

Would it not be better for him to die at once, and go to wait for her in the blessed regions of semi-barbaric futurity?

And yet, that awful tiger, those shrieks, that blood!

The princess ponders her lover's predicament only through the lens of her own self-interest. The text does not tell us whether she has considered his happiness or whether she has taken into account his simple trust in her. So, although the princess is a resourceful young woman, she can also be perceived as self-centered, arrogant, and cold-hearted.



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