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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What does "lowness of station" mean in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

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The phrase "lowness of station" was used to describe the princess’ lover. The statement meant that the gentleman was a commoner with no ties to nobility or royalty, and this automatically barred him from marrying or having a love affair with the king’s daughter.

Among his courtiers was a young man of that fineness of blood and lowness of station common to the conventional heroes of romance who love royal maidens.

Never before had such a case occurred; never before had a subject dared to love the daughter of the king.

In the story, the king had an odd way of administering justice to people who committed offenses that interested him. The king would summon the public to the arena to witness judgments against offenders. The accused would walk into the arena and towards one of two doors positioned side by side. Behind one of the doors was a fierce tiger ready to attack the person, and behind the other door was a lady. The accused would then be required to open one of the doors and either get mauled by the tiger or be married off to the lady.

The princess fell in love with one of the courtiers, and the king happened to discover the relationship. The king did not approve of the love affair and had the gentleman thrown in prison awaiting judgment in the arena. The anticipated results were both in the king’s favor because the individual would either die or be married off, permanently ending the affair with the princess. On the other hand, the princess was in a dilemma. If she helped her lover, she would lose him to another woman, but if she didn’t, she would lose him forever. The story ended with the gentleman opening the door to the right after the princess signaled him towards it.

The ending leaves the reader wondering whether it was the tiger or the lady that came out.

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