two doorways with an elegant woman standing in one and a large tiger head in the other

The Lady, or the Tiger?

by Francis Richard Stockton

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How does the princess feel about the young man in the short story "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

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The princess, in Frank Stockton's short story "The Lady or the Tiger," faces a dilemma as her lover is tried in her father's arena of justice. The young man has been accused of loving the princess. According to the princess's father, a "semi-barbaric" king, the arena is the perfect form of justice. The accused chooses between one of two doors. Behind one door is a tiger which kills him, proving his guilt. From behind the other door comes a lady who promptly marries him, thus guaranteeing his innocence.

The princess is so much in love with the young man that she uses her "power, influence, and force of character" to determine which door holds the tiger and  which the lady. She also knows who the lady is and is quite jealous, and, because of her "savage blood," intensely dislikes the woman. The end of the story hinges on whether the reader believes the princess would let the man she loves choose the tiger and be torn to bits, or the lady, and have to witness a wedding.

The reader has to decide the princess's true nature. Would she show pity for her beloved or simply let the man die a brutal death to keep him from marrying someone else?  

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In Frank Stockton's short story "The Lady or the Tiger?" the third person narrator indicates the princess, the daughter of a semi-barbaric king, was very much in love with the young man:

This royal maiden was well satisfied with her lover, for he was handsome and brave to a degree unsurpassed in all this kingdom, and she loved him with an ardor that had enough of barbarism in it to make it exceedingly warm and strong.

The "love affair" between the princess and the young man proceeded for "many months" before it was eventually discovered by the King who immediately imprisoned the young man and sentenced him to be judged in the arena. Considered a vehicle of impartial justice, the arena was the king's way of judging the accused. A prisoner would enter the arena, where he would have the choice of two doors. Behind one door was a lady, to whom the prisoner was promptly married, and behind the other door was a tiger which killed the man. The prisoner did not know the secret of which door was which. When the princess's lover was sentenced to the arena, the princess discovered from which door would emerge the lady and from which the tiger. The resolution to the story is never revealed and so it is uncertain as to whether the princess saved the young man by letting him marry another woman, or whether her jealousy caused her to point in the direction of the tiger.

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