two doorways with an elegant woman standing in one and a large tiger head in the other

The Lady, or the Tiger?

by Francis Richard Stockton

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Compare/contrast "The Lady, or the Tiger?" and The Odyssey, book 12, examining the theme of leadership and the ways the authors use the texts in conveying their role of leadership. (I need to have main claim with two assertions in comparing/contrasting the role of leadership in these texts.)

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Both of these literary works present the theme of making a near-impossible choice between two bad alternatives, often referred to as “a rock and a hard place.” The short story formalized a traditional tale, using a phrase that has come to equal such a choice. In the Odyssey as well, the dangers on either side of a hazardous sea passage, Scylla and Charybdis, have likewise become a metaphor for a necessary decision in a no-win situation. The difference between them is partly in the ambiguity of the story’s ending, as the interpretation relies on the reader, and the certainty of the Odyssey portion, in which Odysseus clearly acted on he saw as the best alternative.

In “The Lady or the Tiger,” the king has a particular leadership style that dispenses justice fairly, in his view. However, he only acts on his own advice and does not consult others. The king’s had ideas which,

though somewhat polished and sharpened by the progressiveness of distant Latin neighbors, were still large, florid, and untrammeled, as became the half of him which was barbaric. He was a man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts. He was greatly given to self-communing, and, when he and himself agreed upon anything, the thing was done.

Although the punishment is part of public spectacle, the king allows the convicted person to make a choice. Even though one alternative will lead to certain death, the prisoner has a fifty-fifty chance not just of survival, but of thriving. But the daughter also has a role as a leader because the king is her father; that is the main reason that the young man is brought before the king in the first place. Will she show love, compassion, and fairness—will she dispense justice or act out of revenge?

The author concludes the story with the classic question: “And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door,—the lady, or the tiger?”

When the ship bearing Odysseus and his men nears the crags on either side of the passage, he warns them of the danger of Charybdis, the fatal whirlpool. He shows good leadership as they follow his instructions to stay at the oars.

Do you keep your seats on the benches and smite with your oars the deep surf of the sea, in the hope that Zeus may grant us to escape and avoid this death. And to thee, steersman, I give this command, and do thou lay it to heart, since thou wieldest the steering oar of the hollow ship. From this smoke and surf keep the ship well away and hug the cliff, lest, ere thou know it, the ship swerve off to the other side and thou cast us into destruction.

Odysseus, however, decides not to tell them about the other hazard, a horrible monster that eats men alive, six at a time because it has six...

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But of Scylla I went not on to speak, a cureless bane, lest haply my comrades, seized with fear, should cease from rowing and huddle together in the hold.

His decision to withhold this information proves fatal to six men, as the ship does get too close to Scylla, who devours them.

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In book 12 of The Odyssey, Odysseus is forced to make a decision between passing by Scylla, a horrible six-headed sea-monster, or Charybdis, a giant whirlpool. Circe, the witch, tells him privately that

No mariners yet can boast they’ve raced their shippast Scylla’s lair without some mortal blow — with each of her six heads she snatches up a man from the dark-prowed craft and whisks him off.

However, she nonetheless advises him to steer nearer to Scylla's cave, risking the deaths of six of his men, rather than to move too close to Charybdis and risk his "'entire crew.'" Odysseus still hopes that he can fight Scylla and prevent his men's deaths, but Circe assures him that Scylla is "no mortal," and there is "no fighting her, no defense— / just flee the creature, that's the only way.'' Then, once the ship has passed Scylla, Odysseus and his men must not harm the cattle belonging to the sun god on the island of Thrinacia. If the men "harm them in any way," their ship and lives will all be destroyed. Odysseus tells his men about the danger presented by the sirens as well as the danger presented by Helios's cattle, but he makes

No mention of Scylla—how to fight that nightmare?—for fear the men would panic, desert their oarsand huddle down and stow themselves away.

Scylla does, indeed, eat six of Odysseus's "toughest, strongest hands" on deck. In short, Odysseus decides the fate of six of his men by not deciding much of anything (other than to draw nearer to Scylla than Charybdis; to risk some and not all). The lots of all his crewmen, himself included, are cast together, but Odysseus withholds life-and-death information from them in order to maintain his leadership of them.

The "semi-barbaric king" in "The Lady or the Tiger?" also leaves a certain amount of decision-making up to fate and withholds life-and-death information from those accused law-breakers he subjects to treatment in his arena. The narrator describes it:

This vast amphitheater, with its encircling galleries, its mysterious vaults, and its unseen passages, was an agent of poetic justice, in which crime was punished, or virtue rewarded, by the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance.

Once the accused person enters the arena, he must choose between two identical doors. He must open one, whichever one he prefers, and "he was subject to no guidance or influence but that of the aforementioned impartial and incorruptible chance." Behind one door waits a hungry and vicious tiger; behind the other waits a perfect bride, chosen specifically for the accused person. His punishment or reward, then, depends on his choice, and his choice depends upon chance. Likewise, Odysseus did not seek to protect certain men from Scylla; they all were subject to the same risk, the same chance that Scylla would gobble them up. Obviously, information about which door hides the bride and which door hides the tiger is withheld from the prisoner, and the king manages to maintain a tenuous "innocence" because the prisoner has the "whole matter in his own hands." This king maintains his leadership, then, by withholding crucial information from his subjects and then leaving their fates up to chance; Odysseus, similarly, maintains his leadership by withholding crucial information from his crew and leaving their fates up to chance.

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