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

Start Free Trial

What is the direct characterization and indirect characterization of the main characters in the "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

An author uses direct characterization to tell his/her readers what a certain character is like. For example, an author can state that the hero in his novel is fearless, stubborn, or even meticulous. In direct characterization, the author directly reveals to us the personality of the character by using adjectives and other descriptive words and phrases.

For example, we are told that the king in the story is "semi-barbaric" or "barbaric" in nature. He is also said to be a man of "exuberant fancy," with "an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts." He is introspective, a man "greatly given to self-communing."

Similarly, his daughter is directly characterized as having the same barbaric nature; she is also "intense and fervid" (passionate) in temperament.

In indirect characterization, an author reveals what a character is like through an account of his/her thoughts, actions, speech, facial expressions, and effect on others. In the story, the king commissions a special amphitheater to be built. According to the text, the king's arena is to be "an agent of poetic justice, in which crime was punished, or virtue rewarded, by the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance."

On any given day, an accused lawbreaker must choose between two doors to open in the king's arena. A beautiful maiden stands behind one door and a fearsome tiger behind the other. Here, the king's actions show that he is primarily focused on fulfilling the dictates of his "barbaric idealism." Through the king's actions, the author indirectly shows us that the king is iron-willed and imperious in nature.

In indirect characterization, authors may also reveal to us the thoughts of certain characters. In the story, we are told what the princess thinks of the beautiful maiden who stands behind one of the doors and what she thinks about her lover possibly meeting a violent end. Here are some quotes that reveal to us the princess' thoughts. They tell us much about the kind of person she is:

Often had she seen, or imagined that she had seen, this fair creature throwing glances of admiration upon the person of her lover, and sometimes she thought these glances were perceived, and even returned. 

...with all the intensity of the savage blood transmitted to her through long lines of wholly barbaric ancestors, she hated the woman who blushed and trembled behind that silent door.

How in her grievous reveries had she gnashed her teeth, and torn her hair, when she saw his start of rapturous delight as he opened the door of the lady!

Through her thoughts, we can see that the princess has a jealous and possessive nature. The author ends the story ambiguously; we are left to decide for ourselves whether the princess will succumb to the dictates of her possessive nature or whether she will yield to compassion. The beauty of indirect characterization is that it allows the reader to come to his/her own conclusions about a particular character.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team