Did the princess choose the lady or the tiger?

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This is an excellent opportunity to stretch your mind in three directions: First, there is no tiger, no door, no choice. Like Magritte’s painting of a pipe (called “This is not a pipe”) , it is time to distinguish between the “signified” and the “signifier” – between the actual object or physical reality, and its “symbol,” whether a word or a drawing or gesture. Man’s mind has the ability to put the world into communicable form; we have even progressed to finding signifiers for abstractions – look at the “heart” gesture “made with the hands” that you see at music concerts. We all know it means “I am loving this musical moment, and you the musician.” In the anecdotal story of the lady and the tiger, the author is using these words – lady, tiger, door – to signify the difficult and character-revealing choice the “protagonist” has to make. The fact that the author chooses not to “signify” the actual choice is because he/she wants the story to be “about the difficulty.” It’s like asking “Why does the whale not die?” in Moby Dick – that’s not what Melville was trying to articulate. Second, the art and craft of fiction-writing are complicated skills, and you, the reader, have an opportunity here to examine how you were drawn into believing, for a moment, that such an incident actually happened. We can feel the tension, even hear the breathing, as the fictional story is told. Thirdly, you can analytically compare this choice-making story with such literature as Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” or any number of tales of difficult-choice stories, and glean some psychological solace out of knowing you are not alone in your Angst when confronted with a difficult choice.

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