The setting of the story is an unnamed, imaginary kingdom of ancient times, ruled by what the narrator calls tongue-in-cheek, a "semi-barbaric" king. In fact, the king, as the narrator's exposition of him shows, is fully a barbaric tyrant, ready to impose his will no matter what the cost or...
The setting of the story is an unnamed, imaginary kingdom of ancient times, ruled by what the narrator calls tongue-in-cheek, a "semi-barbaric" king. In fact, the king, as the narrator's exposition of him shows, is fully a barbaric tyrant, ready to impose his will no matter what the cost or how irrational his idea. More specifically, most of the story is set in the arena in which "justice" is meted out in his kingdom before a huge audience.
The story's main conflict rages within the king's daughter's heart. Her beloved has been accused of the crime of being in love with her, which is potentially deserving of death because she is so above his station. This means he will have to face the king's system of "poetic" justice. He has to choose between two doors. Behind one is a ravenous tiger who will eat him alive. Behind the other is a beautiful maiden who he will marry to great fanfare if he chooses it. The princess has discovered what will lurk behind each door. She will signal to her beloved what door to pick. However, we never know if it is the door with the tiger or the door with the beautiful maiden. Is she willing to sacrifice herself to save him by watching him marry another woman, or would she prefer he be ripped to shreds?
The sequence of the story goes as follows: We first learn about the king and his system of justice. Then the story zooms into the specifics of the beautiful daughter, her beloved, and the trial that faces him. After that, a great deal of detail is offered about the suspenseful day of the trial, with the huge crowd assembled to watch what door the lover picks. We see him look anxiously at the princess for guidance. We see her indicate that he should pick the right door, and we follow him as he moves without hesitation and opens the door.
Then, suddenly, the action stops. The narrator breaks in and without telling us the outcome, describes the princess's anguish over her decision, then ends without a conclusion:
The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered, and it is not for me to presume to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door,—the lady, or the tiger?