The Lady or the Tiger? Questions and Answers
by Francis Richard Stockton

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What are examples of irony and what is the main conflict in the short story "The Lady or the Tiger"?

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There are two examples of situational irony in Frank Stockton's short story "The Lady or the Tiger." Situational irony is a contrast between what is expected to happen and what actually exists or happens. In the story a "semi-barbaric" king sets up a system of justice whereby an accused criminal determines his own fate with a simple choice. He is led into an arena with two doors. Behind one of the doors is a tiger, which would kill him, and behind the other door is a lady, to whom he would be married. This "justice" is highly ironic because an accused man who was actually guilty could end up choosing the lady and thwarting the law by walking away a free man. On the other hand, an innocent man may choose the tiger and be brutally punished for something he never did. 

The second example of irony is in the fact that the princess discovers the secret of the doors when her lover is accused and set to stand trial in the arena. What the king had believed to be "incorruptible" has become corrupted by his own daughter. The system of justice, which had been conceived as flawless and completely fair, has been altered by the whims of one person.

That the princess's lover is accused and set to go into the arena provides the major conflict in the story. The princess suffers from an internal conflict over her lover. Because she learns the secret of the doors she is torn between saving her lover, who would then be married to a woman who is despised by the princess, or allowing him to be devoured by the tiger. While the narrator presents arguments for each choice, he never provides a resolution and the reader is left to decide whether the princess saved her lover or had him killed out of jealousy.

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