two doorways with an elegant woman standing in one and a large tiger head in the other

The Lady, or the Tiger?

by Francis Richard Stockton

Start Free Trial

How does "The Lady, Or the Tiger?" end?

Quick answer:

The story "The Lady, or the Tiger?" ends with the courtier approaching the door that the princess has directed him toward. Because Stockton leaves the ending up for interpretation, the reader must decide for themselves what door the princess directs her lover toward after examining her personality and motivation.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Stockton's short story "The Lady, or the Tiger?" has an open ending, and the reader is left to decide whether or not the "semi-barbaric" princess directs her lover toward the door with the lady or the door with the tiger. The story ends with the young courtier in the arena and meeting the princess's eyes as she directs him toward a certain door. The reader is aware that the princess knows what lies behind each door but is forced to analyze her character and decide for themselves what door she directs her lover toward.

Just after the princess directs her lover toward the door on the right, Stockton writes, "Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady?" Stockton then encourages the reader to examine the princess's character and motivation before making their decision. The reader is forced to view the situation from the princess's perspective and analyze her jealous, imperious nature. Stockton proceeds to elaborate on the princess's personality, and the reader recognizes that she will be devastated whether the courtier lives or dies.

If the courtier lives, the princess will be forced to watch her lover marry the beautiful maiden, which, for her, might be a worse experience than witnessing him die a brutal death. Either way, the princess will be losing her lover, and the reader must determine for themselves what decision she makes. The story involves the study of the human heart, and Stockton leaves the ending open to interpretation.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the climax in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

The climax of the story comes when the young lover in the arena goes to the door indicated by the princess and opens it. Naturally the reader would expect to see whether the lady or the tiger emerged. But the author leaves that question unanswered forever. The following paragraph is the climax. 

He turned, and with a firm and rapid step he walked across the empty space. Every heart stopped beating, every breath was held, every eye was fixed immovably upon that man. Without the slightest hesitation, he went to the door on the right, and opened it.

Something undoubtedly happens, but we will never know what it was. It happened, as the author says, "In the very olden time." We don't wonder so much about what happened to the princess's young lover as we wonder about the princess herself. She gave her lover a swift and subtle signal to choose the door on the right.

No one but her lover saw her. Every eye but his was fixed on the man in the arena.

The lover's fate was dependent, not on his choice between the two doors, but on hers. That is really what we want to know because it would tell us about the princess and perhaps about women in general. Would she prefer to see her lover torn to pieces by a tiger or married on the spot to the beautiful rival whom she hates. If she lets her lover get torn to pieces, that spectacle would be over with quickly. But if she lets him marry the woman she hates, she would have to endure her jealousy for many years. The two would be happy together. They might have many children. And meanwhile the princess would have to settle for another man whom she might not even love and whose inferior qualities would be a continual reminder of the man she had lost.

The princess did not make up her mind on the spur of the moment. She had plenty of time to think about what she was going to do, although it only took her an instant to give her lover the signal to choose the door on his right. Like the princess, the reader is visualizing two possible outcomes for the trusting lover. The author himself speculates about the outcome after the climax is reached.

The more we reflect upon this question, the harder it is to answer. It involves a study of the human heart which leads us through devious mazes of passion, out of which it is difficult to find our way.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the climax in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

What is fascinating about this story is that the princess has already given her lover the signal and he is already opening the door she indicated. This story is told as if it is an actual episode that occurred in history. So what we are left wondering is not what will happen but what did happen. Whatever it was, it happened a long time ago. Maybe it no longer matters because all the people involved would be dead. What we wonder is whether the princess let her lover be killed or whether she let him be married to her beautiful rival. Her choice seems to reflect on females in general. What would a contemporary woman do in the same circumstances? How do women think? Can they be trusted?

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is the climax in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

The story actually ends in the climax, unlike most short stories.  Usually there is a complete plot diagram that is followed.  However, this story has a hanging ending.  That is why the climax is at the very end.  We do not know what is behind the door the princess has him open.  Because the story does not officially end for the reader, the falling action/resolution of the story is not presented to us.  The reader must choose his or her own ending.  Most students feel strongly one way or the other because of this ending.  They either love having the choice of the ending, or they hate that the story doesn't officially end for them. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on