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 is the tone of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" by Frank Stockton and a quote to support it?

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The tone of the story is ironic. Irony is saying the opposite of what you really mean. In reality, Stockton (or, more precisely, his narrator) is appalled with this king and the way he dispenses so-called justice. For example, in the opening, the narrator calls the king "semi-barbaric" when, in fact, the story will show he is wholly barbaric. Again, instead of calling this king a sociopathic tyrant, the narrator says the following:

He was a man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts. He was greatly given to self-communing, and, when he and himself agreed upon anything, the thing was done. When every member of his domestic and political systems moved smoothly in its appointed course, his nature was bland and genial; but, whenever there was a little hitch, and some of his orbs got out of their orbits, he was blander and more genial still, for nothing pleased him so much as to make the crooked straight and crush down uneven places.

It is ironic to say he was a man of "exuberant fancy" and turned fancies into "facts;" what that means is he brutally enforced whatever silly whim occurred to him. It is also ironic to say that crushing dissent rendered him "blander and more genial still." In fact, such behavior showed him to be a harsh and cruel despot.

When the narrator says that through watching the displays of "valor" in the king's arena, "the minds of his subjects were refined and cultured," the narrator really means that through watching bloody displays of barbarism, the king's subjects' minds were debased and coarsened.

The narrator says the king's system of justice

was an agent of poetic justice, in which crime was punished, or virtue rewarded, by the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance.

This is ironic because "chance," though impartial and incorruptible, is not actually justice.

And on it goes. The ironic narrative voice creates a distance from the acts of barbarism on display.

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The narrator in "The Lady or the Tiger?" adopts a forthright tone, one that is directly frank and without hesitation, throughout the majority of the story.  At the beginning of the tale, as the narrator describes the semi-barbaric king and his "florid fantasies," the narrator's tone is not judgmental or critical of the king's practices, but rather assesses them for what they are and continues to describe the events in interesting detail. 

It is important to note that the forthright tone of the narrator shifts to a more sympathetic tone as the poor, heroic youth enters the arena.  Here the narrator's diction emphasizes the reaction of the crowd to seeing the handsome youth for the first time:

"Tall, beautiful, fair, his appearance was greeted with a low hum of admiration and anxiety. Half the audience had not known so grand a youth had lived among them. No wonder the princess loved him! What a terrible thing for him to be there!"

The sympathetic tone of the narrator in this passage draws the reader in and builds on the emotion of the moment. 

Stockton's use of tone, from forthright to sympathetic, increases the emotional quality and context of "The Lady or the Tiger?"


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