How does the author show the king is semi-barbaric?

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The author shows the king is semi-barbaric by describing his system of "justice." Rather than using facts and evidence to determine whether a person is guilty or innocent of a crime, the king uses a superstitious method that is akin to having a person walk on hot coals. In this case, the person accused of a crime has to choose between two doors. If he chooses the door with the beautiful maiden behind it (the story assumes the accused will be male), he is believed innocent. If he chooses the door with the tiger behind it, he is devoured and assumed guilty.

A death penalty that involves being killed and eaten by a hungry tiger in front of a huge crowd of people is more than a little "semi-barbaric." What makes it worse is that the king finds this a good way to entertain his subjects while at the same administering what he sees as "justice."

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mgwasserman | Student

Semi-barbaric means sort-of barbaric and sort-of not barbaric. So the king is part savage and brutal and animalistic, and also part civilized and sophisticated and enlightened. As far as characterization goes, we're simply TOLD the king is semi-barbaric by the narrator, so there's that. But we're also SHOWN as much in the system of justice the king sets up with the whole arena dealio. Just like the king, there are parts to this system that are barbaric and also parts that are not. As far as the barbaric side goes: for one, the system has nothing to do with justice, if by "justice" we mean the accused's fate being linked to whether they actually did what they are alleged to have done. The arena is founded on blind chance. That's it. There's a 50% likelihood of lady, a 50% counter-likelihood of tiger. Secondly, that the king likes it and the people like it has little to do with whether it's a "good" system. Justice isn't (or shouldn't be) a matter of entertainment. And moreover, that the king and the populace are amused shows us something about the barbaric side of their nature. But it's not ALL bad. The king is, we're told at the outset, an absolute ruler. So it's interesting that he sets in motion a system of justice that excludes him. Indeed, he abdicates a piece of his absolute rule to a lowly subject's decision that he has no part in shaping. This is, importantly, a check on how far his rule extends, something that he enacted. The accused decides on his own, independent of what the king may want him to do. That the king COULD decide what to do with the accused but DOESN'T (and moreover, that he systematizes this in the form of the arena) moves us toward a more modern sense of how power should operate, with checks and balances on the authority of one single person.