Discuss the effect Stockton creates in "The Lady or the Tiger?" by deciding not to include dialogue between the princess and her lover.  

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the short story by Frank Stockton called, "The Lady or the Tiger," the author chooses to tell his tale without dialogue. There is one word of internal dialogue: "Which?"—a question expressed in the young man's eyes to the princess. He is asking his lover which door he should open in order to survive.

Perhaps Stockton removes dialogue so that the reader must concentrate on the facts first. Stockton describes the "trial" conducted by the "semi-barbaric king," and the king's unwavering dedication to the very "letter of the law;" the people are also well satisfied by the king's method of deciding the guilt or innocence of the accused.

Among the details the author provides is the nature of the relationship between the accused and his lover—the king's daughter. This is, in fact, the young man's crime: loving the princess. We are given no deep insight into the relationship except that the princess finds her lover to be as handsome and brave a man as she could want; and the young man is completely dedicated to the princess.

The main conflict in the story is not that the young man is on trial, but what his judgment may be—as his fate lies in the hands of his lover. For if the young man opens the wrong door, he will be eaten by a tiger. The other door, however, hides a beautiful young woman to whom the accused will be married without delay regardless of whether he is in love with another. This is, of course, the dilemma: can the princess give up her lover to another woman in order to save his life?

Dialogue would provide the reader with the innermost thoughts and feelings of each of these characters—there might be words of devotion and shared sorrow and/or loss for both—regardless of the outcome. There would be reasoning and rational thought exchanged, as well as love and tenderness: these are things that might sway the princess. Stockton is not asking us to understand her dilemma, but her human nature. For well before the young man is led into the courtyard to face his "punishment," the princess has "done her homework." She has found out behind which door the tiger waits:

But gold, and the power of a woman's will, had brought the secret to the princess.

The princess also knows about the young lady:

And not only did she know in which room stood the lady ready to emerge, all blushing and radiant, should her door be opened, but she knew who the lady was...and the princess hated her.

The loathing of the king's daughter for girl her lover will marry if the princess chooses to save his life exposes the basis of the real choice the semi-barbaric princess must make. The princess has formed her own opinions about her lover and the girl, but that they are not founded on facts (notice "imagined" and "thought"):

Often had she seen, or imagined that she had seen, this fair creature throwing glances of admiration upon the person of her lover, and sometimes she thought these glances were perceived, and even returned.

We also learn:

Her decision...had been made after days and nights of anguished deliberation. She had known she would be asked, she had decided what she would answer...

The princess has already made her decision. The twist that Stockton exposes centers on the darker side of human nature: in this case— jealousy. Can she love him enough to let him go? Lack of dialogue clearly leaves the outcome with the reader, making it a more powerful story—for perhaps in answering the question, we look within to decide what we might do.

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The Lady or the Tiger?

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