What two emotions did the princess waver between?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The princess may have been wavering between the emotions of love and jealousy. It might be surmised that she doesn't want to see her lover killed but doesn't want to see him marrying another woman, and especially a woman she hates. However, it is noteworthy that she immediately gives a sign to her lover in the arena to choose the door on the right. So it would seem that she has already made up her mind regarding his fate and is not wavering when she gives the signal. She may be signaling him to meet his death or to marry the beautiful woman, but whichever it is, she has decided. It is only after the princess signals her lover to choose the door on the right that the author speculates about what must have been going on in her mind in the past few days and nights.

Would it not be better for him to die at once, and go to wait for her in the blessed regions of semi-barbaric futurity?

     And yet, that awful tiger, those shrieks, that blood!

     Her decision had been indicated in an instant, but it had been made after days and nights of anguished deliberation. She had known she would be asked, she had decided what she would answer, and, without the slightest hesitation, she had moved her hand to the right.

Her lover has a fifty-fifty chance. There is no emotional problem for him. He does not even have to decide which door to open. The princess has made that decision for him. She, however, has no chance at all. She has lost her lover already. Either he will marry the beautiful woman or get torn to pieces by the tiger. Is her love stronger than her jealousy? Or is her jealousy stronger than her love? 

The fact that she was wavering "for days and nights" is conceivably a good sign for the lover. The princess may be barbaric, or semi-barbaric, but she is not totally savage. There are many reasons to believe that she has signaled her lover to choose the door with the beautiful woman behind it.

  • She loves him.
  • She knows it would be dishonorable to deceive him when he is so loving and so trusting.
  • The lover knows her intimately and ought to sense whether she is signaling him to choose the door that will save him.
  • She does not want to have to watch any man being torn to pieces by a tiger, and especially her lover. "Had it not been for the moiety of barbarism in her nature it is probable that lady would not have been there, but her intense and fervid soul would not allow her to be absent on an occasion in which she was so terribly interested." Ordinarily she would not attend these barbaric events. There is only a "moiety of barbarism in her nature."
  • The fact that she has been wavering for so long proves that she is not totally barbaric and vicious.

What are her possible reasons for choosing the tiger?

  • She doesn't want to lose her lover to this particular woman. If it were any other woman she might not have been wavering.

If would seem that the odds are in the lover's favor when he chooses the door on the right. But we will never know. It is all over now. It happened "in the very olden time."