For what crime is the young man accused and how does the princess signal her love when he is in the arena?   Frank R. Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This love affair moved on happily for many months, until one day the king happened to discover its existence.  He did not hesitate nor waver in regard to his duty.  The youth was immediately cast into prison, and a day was appointed for his trail in the king's arena.

The young man--a mere "subject" of the kingdom--has dared to love the daughter of the semi-barbaric king of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" In addition to his audacity, the young man has offended the king further by loving the daughter who is the "apple of his eye, and was loved by him above all humanity."  So, only someone that the king would choose himself would meet his approval as the lover of his daughter.

When the trial is arranged, the young man must choose between two doors, one of which holds a tiger, the other a fair maiden to whom the youth must be married if he selects that door.  Knowing these conditions, the semi-barbaric maiden, with her right arm lying on the cushioned parapet, raises her hand and makes a "quick movement toward the right."  Only the lover sees this movement because everyone else is focused on him.  With "a firm and rapid step," he crosses the empty space to the right door.

Whether the princess signals her love is questionable.  For, she knows that the young man will be wed to another if she spares his life.  Being "semi-barbaric" like her father who has devised this system of "justice," the princess may opt for the death of her lover over the knowledge that he will belong to another.  As Frank R. Stockton, the author, writes, the question of her decision is one he leaves to the reader:  "Which came out of the opened door--the lady, or the tiger?"

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The Lady or the Tiger?

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