Interestingly, when Frank R. Stockton's short story "The Lady, or the Tiger?" first appeared in the Century magazine in 1882, it caused quite a sensation with its unfinished plot, and debate were held throughout the country in order to decide the ending. Indeed, there were reasons for people's determinations of either door as the one chosen by the young man who is the lover of the princess.
Contributing to the debate on the ending is Stockton's use of irony throughout the narrative, irony which often complicates the identification of foreshadowing, of what will happen in the plot. Nonetheless, there are some hints which lead readers to form their determination of the ending. Here are some examples of this foreshadowing:
- The vast amphitheater is "an agent of poetic justice." This statement implies that not impartial justice, but a retribution instead is exacted in the king's arena.
- The king "allowed no such arrangement to interfere with his great scheme of punishment or reward." This sentence comes after a description of how "justice" is exacted from the subjects; it is simply based upon the barbaric king's arbitrary decision, his "semi-barbaric method of administering justice."
- The princess is loved by the king "above all humanity."
- The king's daughter has "a soul as fervent and imperious as his own."
- When the king discovers the lover of the princess, a young man who is but a commoner, he has the lover imprisoned immediately. The king knows that his daughter loves this young man, but "the king would not think of allowing any fact of this kind to interfere with the working of the court of judgment."
- The princess attends the day of judgment at the arena because she has "barbarism in her nature." This mention of barbarism suggests that she is cruel.
- The princess knows behind which door stands the lady, and she knows who she is. Moreover, she hates this "fair damsel" because she has seen her "throwing glances of admiration upon...her lover, and sometimes she thought these glances were perceived and even returned." Therefore, the princess hates this damsel "with all the intensity of the savage blood transmitted to her...through barbaric ancestors.
- When he looks up at the princess, the lover discerns that she knows what lies behind each door. "He had expected her to know it. He understood her nature."
The challenge of the final acts of the princess and of the lover lie in the irony of his not knowing that the princess hates the beautiful damsel whom, ironically, the princess has witnessed her flirt with him.