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Frank Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?" is a unique story in that it has no finished ending, and the narrative is so ironic. One of the ironies is the description of the king in the story's exposition as the ruler is described as "semi-barbaric" and of an "exuberant fancy and an authority so irresistible" that his wishes are autocratically accomplished. For, he communicates only with himself and whenever "he and himself" agree about anything, that is what is done.
1. This king has had a vast amphitheater built with secret passages, and large "encircling galleries" built especially for administering poetic justice where crime is punished and innocence rewarded by "the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance."
In reality there is merely chance, not justice. If one of the king's subjects is accused of a crime that interests him enough, he orders that the accused person's fate is decided in the arena of his amphitheater where his subjects all assemble. When the king gives a signal, the accused comes out into the arena. Across from the prisoner are two doors; he must then choose one of these doors. Behind one door is a hungry tiger who will attack and kill the accused, while behind the other door is a lady who matches the accused in age and they are immediately married "as a reward for his innocence." If the man is already married, the king does not allow this to interfere with his plan of punishment and justice.
2. After the king discovers a young man with his daughter, the "semi-barbaric princess," he decides that the young man must be punished; therefore, this accused person is sent out into the arena in order to choose one of the two doors. On the appointed days, the princess sits above watching her lover as he stands in the arena. Although she possesses the secret of who is behind which door, the princess has trouble deciding which door to point to if her lover looks up at her. For, she has seen the young lady behind the one door and knows that this "fair creature" has displayed interest in her lover who has returned her glances, and she has enough barbarism and jealousy in her to want to keep her lover from this lady, even if it means his destruction. Yet, she does love him, so she is conflicted.
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