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 would you describe the character of the king and the way he rules his people in "The Lady, or the Tiger?" Do you think the narrator believes he is a good leader?

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Bluntly stated, the king in Frank Stockton's short story "The Lady or the Tiger" is a dictator. He appears to make all the important decisions for his subjects without consulting any advisors or the people. Stockton writes:

He was greatly given to self-communing, and, when he and himself agreed upon...

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Bluntly stated, the king in Frank Stockton's short story "The Lady or the Tiger" is a dictator. He appears to make all the important decisions for his subjects without consulting any advisors or the people. Stockton writes:

He was greatly given to self-communing, and, when he and himself agreed upon anything, the thing was done.

The king believes that he alone knows what is best and that he can solve any problem. He is initially described as "semi-barbaric" and his idea of the arena is savage (men can be torn to pieces by a ferocious beast by choosing poorly). He is also a man who believes the world can be explained simply; it is either black or white. An accused subject is either guilty, if he opens the door of the tiger, or innocent, if he opens the door of the lady. The institution of the arena also reveals his idealism. The ideal of the justness of the arena is worth the fact that innocent men could meet their death. He's not ultimately worried about things being fair as long as the ideal of justice is met.

Stockton never reveals his opinion of the king. He simply describes how the king arrived at the concept of the arena. He does not editorialize about the equity of the king's justice, nor does he either praise or criticize the king's methods. Stockton does say the arena was a "popular" institution and that subjects came from far and near to witness the spectacle. Of course, it's difficult to say that sheer popularity makes the king a good leader.

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