What are three examples of irony in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

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Lynn Ramsson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Frank Stockton's short story "The Lady, or The Tiger?" is full of irony. Here are three examples of irony that are characteristic of the narrator's darkly comic tone.

First of all, in the first sentence of the short story, the king is described as "semi-barbaric." This adjective is, in and of itself, ironic because the word "barbaric" is not typically mitigated by the pre-fix "semi." People are barbaric, or people are not barbaric; being a little bit barbaric, or semi-barbaric, is not really possible.

Secondly, the king's belief that exhibitions of violence and cruelty contribute to the cultivation and refinement of his people's minds is ironic. High culture is typically associated with pastimes that involve the intellect; crude and crass displays of power are emotional and visceral in nature, so very little refined intelligence is needed to appreciate them.

Finally, the narrator employs irony when applying the phrase "perfect fairness" to the king's preferred system of justice. This light and comfortable phrase is incongruous because the randomness of the king's system is only fair in the fact that it treats all people as equals; it is not at all fair in the modern concept of fairness that suggests that a punishment should match the crime.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think that you are probably looking for examples of verbal irony here.  This is the type of irony where the author says one thing, but really means the opposite.  There is quite a bit of this in the story.

Here are a few examples from the story.

First, the narrator says that the king made

the public arena, in which, by exhibitions of manly and beastly valor, the minds of his subjects were refined and cultured

This is ironic because the minds of his subjects weren't really being cultured by this -- it's barbaric.

Second, we are told that

The arena of the king was built, not to give the people an opportunity of hearing the rhapsodies of dying gladiators...

Dying people don't do rhapsodies.  So that's ironic too.

Finally, the narrator says this about the method that the king made up of deciding whether someone was innocent or guilty:

Its perfect fairness is obvious.

This is ironic because the process was ridiculously unfair and arbitrary.

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