The Lady or the Tiger? Characters
The main characters in “The Lady or the Tiger?” are the king, the princess, and the courtier.
- The king is a “semi-barbaric” ruler who takes great pleasure in the arbitrary system of justice he has devised. Though he loves his daughter, he is enraged to discover her affair with the courtier, whom he sentences to the arena.
- The princess loves the courtier passionately but is also passionately jealous of a younger female courtier. She is forced to decide her lover’s fate, which readers never learn.
- The courtier is a brave and handsome young man who loves the princess and trusts her completely.
Themes and Characters
Dealing with the consequences of one's choices is one of the most prominent themes in the story. The "semi-barbaric" king has set up the arena in such a way that the prisoner's choice determines his fate, regardless of his guilt or innocence. Either he is eaten by a hungry tiger or he instantly marries a beautiful girl. This element of choice absolves the king from any responsibility in the situation and intrigues the audience, which eagerly anticipates the prisoner's fate. Not knowing whether they will witness a bloody spectacle or a wedding puts the spectators in a state of suspense. Because the young man is allowed to make his own choice, all others are absolved of guilt. Whether or not the outcome of his choice is just never occurs to them.
The king himself is described as one who likes "to make the crooked straight, and crush down uneven places." In the case of the young man, the king exercises an arbitrary judgment. Because the young man has fallen in love with the princess, he must now face the consequence, which is to make another choice—one that means either life or death.
The princess has made an important choice as well: whether to direct her now unattainable young man to the tiger who will destroy him or to the lady she hates. She has agonized about her decision and imagined the consequences of both choices in vivid detail. Stockton leaves it to the reader to ponder which choice she makes for the young man, who trusts the princess completely.
The princess may betray her lover in the arena because she is jealous of the young woman behind the door. Not only does she suspect that he may be interested in this attractive female courtier, but she is also deeply troubled by the possibility that their marriage will be compulsory if he chooses the "right" door. Whether she will be loyal to her lover or betray him and send him to his death is the main conflict of the story, and one that is not resolved.
In typical fairy-tale terms, the young man is described as "of that fineness of blood and lowness of station common to the conventional heroes of romance who love royal maidens . . . he was handsome and brave to a degree unsurpassed in all this kingdom." The young woman chosen by the king as his potential bride is also "one of the fairest and loveliest of the damsels of the court," someone the princess (who is not described physically) thinks he has noticed before. In mentioning the characters' physical characteristics, Stockton calls to mind familiar tales of beautiful princesses and handsome princes, evoking the fairy-tale tradition.
Until the king discovers their affair, the young man and the princess love each other and are very happy—or so it seems. In reality, the princess is deeply jealous of a young female courtier she perceives as being attracted to the young man. This perception arouses her passionate hatred for the young woman. In contrast, the young man places his fate in the princess's hands by unquestioningly trusting her indication to choose the right-hand door. His love for her is unflinching, even though she may be sending him to his death. The narrator also relates that the king loves his daughter very much. But can this declaration be trusted? If the king truly loves his daughter, would he impose such a sentence on the man she loves?
The courtier is a young man whose love affair with the...
(The entire section is 1,367 words.)