How are people punished or rewarded under the king's system of justice in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Frank R. Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?" is a story of much verbal irony.  The narrator declares that the king employs his vast amphitheater as "an agent of poetic justice," in which crime and virtue are rewarded "by the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance."  In the ampitheater, the accused subject is sent out into the arena.  There, directly opposite him are two doors, each exactly alike:

It was the duty and the privilege of the person on trial to walk directly to these doors and open one of them....He was suject to no guidance...but that of the aforementioned impartial and incorruptible chance.

Behind one door there is a beautiful maiden to whom he must be immediately married, whether the prisoner is married already or not; and, behind the other is a fierce tiger who will tear him to pieces "as a punishment for his guilt."  When this happens, "doleful bells" ring and a wail is heard from hired mourners.  This, the narrator states, is "the king's semibarbaric method of administering justice.


teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A very simple system of justice rewards or punishes people in this story. This court of justice also doubles as entertainment. It operates on the principle that chance, being impartial, is the best judge: "crime was punished, or virtue rewarded, by the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance."

A person--always assumed to be a heterosexual male--who is accused of a crime--is put in a huge amphitheater, where thousands of spectators watch a suspenseful drama unfold. The accused is faced with two doors. Behind one is a hungry tiger, ready to pounce and devour the person. Behind the other is a beautiful maiden, who, if picked, will be the bride of the accused. If the person chooses the door behind which the tiger waits, he is considered guilty, and the audience can watch as chance dictates a gruesome death. If he picks the door hiding the maiden, his marriage is celebrated with music and a parade of people enjoying the occasion. Everybody has a good time--except of course the poor souls devoured by the ravenous tigers.

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The Lady or the Tiger?

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