What is the plot of "The Lady or the Tiger" by Stockton?

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Scott David eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"The Lady, or the Tiger?" is set in a kingdom whose king had determined to turn justice into a spectacle determined solely by chance. He has built an arena in which accused criminals are faced with two doors and given free choice between them. Behind one door is a tiger, which kills and devours the chooser (thus confirming the guilt of the accused, at least in the king's mind). Behind the other door is a woman, to whom the accused (having been found innocent) would be immediately married upon choosing that door. In this way, guilt and innocence, punishment and reward, are all tied together in a single unbiased spectacle, determined solely by chance.

In this specific trial, we are watching the main character, a courtier who has pursued a romantic relationship with the princess (which was later found out by the king). For his transgressions, he receives that same trial by fortune—behind one door, a tiger, and the other, a wife.

However, this story ultimately hinges upon the princess, who is watching this spectacle and has successfully managed to find out which fate lies behind each door. Thus, the courtier looks to her for guidance, and she signals him an answer. The conundrum, however, lies in the princess's own motives. She is passionately in love with the courtier and likely jealous at the thought that he might marry another. So, is she going to save his life, or would she rather see him dead than married to another?

The answer to this question is not revealed. We see him select his door, in accordance with her signal, but his fate is left unwritten.

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thetall eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The plot of the story begins with a description of a king who constructed an arena where crime and virtue were punished and rewarded purely on chance. In the arena, the accused was expected to choose between two doors, which presented different fates. A marauding tiger was behind one of the doors and a lady behind the other. Selection of the door with the tiger led to death, while the door with the lady was followed by a wedding ceremony.  As the story unfolds, the king’s daughter and one of the palace’s courtiers fell in love and soon the king discovered the affair. The young man was thrown into prison to await his fate in the arena. The princess learned what each door presented. In addition, she knew the lady behind the door and suspected that she had feelings for the courtier. The princess was forced to decide whether to allow the youth to marry the lady or face the tiger. In the arena, the princess signaled the youth to open the door on the right after they exchanged glances. The plot ends after the youth opens the door on the right and the reader is left in suspense, not knowing what came forth.

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