How are human systems of justice flawed in the story "The Lady or the Tiger?" by Francis R. Stockton?  

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger?" the King is the judge, jury, and executioner. It is the King who has set up the system of justice in his kingdom, so one must look to descriptions of his character to understand it. In Stockton's opening paragraph the king is described as "semi-barbaric," which means that he is partly uncivilized. That also means that he might not value another's life above his own, that he might practise uncivilized rituals, or even that he is self-indulgent. He is also described as one who liked "to make the crooked straight, and crush down uneven places." This means that he likes to be unpredictable and possibly act or go against what might otherwise be the common social understanding on a subject in question. Once a reader understands the king, it is not much of a surprise that his system of justice is one based on chance and unfair to its participants. The first flaw in the king's system was that of criminal matters being resolved in an arena for sport. The arena's genesis is stated clearly as quoted below:

". . . its purpose [did] emanate solely from the brain of this man, who every barleycorn a king, knew no tradition to which he owed more allegiance than pleased his fancy, and who ingrafted on every adopted form of human thought and action the rich growth of his barbaric idealism."

People should be weary whenever a system of justice is based on one man's fancy.

Another problem with the king's system of justice was that he considered it logical and fair, which couldn't be further from the truth. The king believes that his system was not only entertaining to everyone in the kingdom, but no one could argue with it being unfair because, "did not the accused person have the whole matter in his own hands?" Of course this is false because the person who enters the arena must choose between two doors that will open to something unknown to him and unrelated to the facts of the case.


Source: Elements of Literature: Third Course. Holt, Rinehart and Winston: A harcourt Education Company. 2005.


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The Lady or the Tiger?

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