How does the arena relate to the story's situation in its symbolism in "The Lady, or the Tiger"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The arena is the venue for the semi-barbaric king's system of justice, and as such it symbolizes the cruel and autocratic rule of the king; it is also the crux of the internal conflicts of the semi-barbaric princess and her lover. 

  • As symbol of the king's rule

Among his borrowed notions was that of the public arena...by exhibitions of manly and beastly valor, the minds of his subjects were refined and cultured.

Of course, these words are ironic. There is no "valor"; those involved in the exhibitions are engaged in the struggle against beasts to survive. By forcing his subjects to watch these life-and-death struggles, the king places the people helplessly within his cruel culture, and they realize that the those in the arena may just as easily be one of them. This knowledge is what causes the subjects to become "refined," or made free from any thoughts of rebellion.

  • As crux of the internal conflicts of the princess and her lover

Because the princess knows which door holds the tiger, she is faced with the inner conflict of her love for the young man who stands in the arena and her semi-barbaric heart that would like to avenge herself against his dallying with another fair damsel, of whom she is knowledgeable. Thus, she is torn between her love for the man and her own self-love as she also is aware that her lover will be married to a fair damsel if he lives.

Had it not been for the barbarism in her nature, it is probable that lady would not have been there. But...she can decide his fate...[and] with all the intensity of the savage blood transmitted to her...she hated the woman who blushed and trembled behind that silent door.

When the young man who is charged with the crime glances at the princess, he perceives with his lover's eyes that the princess knows the secrets of the two doors.

He expected her to know it. He understood her nature, and his soul was assured that she would never rest until she had made plain to herself this thing, hidden to all other[s]..., even to the king.

The young man must decide whether to trust her when she indicates to him which door to open. In his heart he is conflicted, for, he must decide if he trusts her or believes she intends to trick him. 

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