Why is the princess's internal conflict so central to the story The Lady or the Tiger?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The princess has discovered the secret of which door the tiger is behind in the trial of her beloved. She knows this because she has a strong and relentless personality, much like her father, and has ferreted out the information. We learn that:

Possessed of more power, influence, and force of character than any one who had ever before been interested in such a case, she had done what no other person had done,—she had possessed herself of the secret of the doors.

The princess's internal conflict is central because the outcome of the story depends on how she resolves it. The question is whether she uses her knowledge about the doors to save her lover or to have him eaten alive. Neither solution is good for her. If he is pounced on and devoured by the tiger, she has lost him forever. However, if she points her beloved to the door with the beautiful maiden behind it, she will be forced to witness him married to "the fairest and loveliest of the damsels of the court," a person the princess hates. The fate of this man hinges on whether she cares more about him and his desire to stay alive or more about herself and her own jealousy at the idea of seeing him married to a beautiful rival.

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The princess' internal conflict is central to the story, because the outcome of the story depended on her decision.  How would she direct her handsome young lover?  She has the power and control in the story to direct his fate; "possessed of more power, influence, and force of character than any one who had ever before been interested in such a case, she had done what no other person had done,--she had possessed herself of the secret of the doors." 

Stockton's story asks the reader to examine the motives of the princess to determine the outcome of the story.  The open ending leaves the outcome of the young hero's face undecided, so the reader must analyze the princess' internal conflict to come to grips with the resolution. 

"The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered, and it is not for me to presume to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door,--the lady, or the tiger?"

Stockton's ambiguous ending focuses on the internal conflict of the princess, creating debate among readers everywhere.

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