Why is the ending of The Lady or the Tiger so effective and how does this ambiguity affect the reader?
Interestingly, the lack of denouement in Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?" forbids any passivity upon the part of the readers, who must involve themselves in the composition of the ending themselves. And, with the various turnings and twisting of the characterization and the employment of much verbal irony on Stockton's part, composing an ending to a satiric fairy-tale is no easy task.
So, depending upon the readers' interpretation of the irony and understanding of the characterization of the princess, who is the center of the tension of the story, endings will vary as they must consider Stockton's princess who, herself, has ambivalent feelings about her lover, as well as a conflict within her "semi-barbaric" nature.
In the story " The Lady or the Tiger" a semi-barbaric king took pleasure in administering to his kingdom justice in the form of choices. He would have a man accused of a crime be given a choice in front of a crowd of two doors that he could open. Behind one was a vicious tiger that would tear him to pieces. Behind the other door was a beautiful woman whom he would have to be married to upon that day even if he had another wife and family.
One day the king found out that his daughter whom he loved most dearly had a lover. He took the lover and threw him in the prison and arranged to find the most vicious tiger in the land. He then found a woman who was the most fair and lovely in the court. His daughter knew that her lover would look at her in the arena and try to see if she knew behind which door the tiger that would end his life was lurking.
The princess agonized over it for many days after finding out the truth behind the doors. If the woman told the man to open the door with the tiger, he would be torn to shreds and die. If she told him to chose the door with the woman, he would marry another woman, who was beautiful and had made her jealous in the past with her flirtations with her lover.
The day came and her lover looked at her from the arena. She pointed to the tiger. The reader is left to try and determine which door she had chosen for her lover, the door that held the lady or the tiger. If she told him to chose the tiger her lover was no longer alive and she would be wrought with guilt. If she told him to chose the woman she would live forever in deep despair that the other woman was able to live happily with the man she loved.
The ending is very effective because it leaves the reader to debate which the woman had chosen. The reader shifts mentally back and forth as well because neither of the choices are pleasing for the woman. The woman is left with fate in her hands, but the fateful outcome is tragic either way. The ambiguity is part of her difficulty at making a decision.