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 did the princess discover what was behind each door in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

Expert Answers

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

The princess used her power, influence, and force of character to find out who was behind the door.

In this kingdom in the “very olden time” in which the story takes place, a semi-barbaric king is running the show with his very unique sense of justice.  He essentially believes that his court is just because it leaves things up to fate.  The victim has to choose between two doors, and if he chooses the wrong door, he must be guilty.

It makes a strange kind of semi-barbaric sense, if you believe in superstition.  Either way, the audience is entertained.  They get to see either a bloody execution or a fun wedding.

The whole thing takes on a personal touch when the king’s daughter is involved.  Her lover gets thrown on the mercy of the court, and now things are not quite put to chance anymore.  First of all, she does not want to leave things up him.  Second of all, she is too curious.  She wants to know what door will have what, and who the lady will be.

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.

Now, as with a lot about this story, I realize this is somewhat ambiguous.  Does the princess use her feminine wiles in order to get the information?  It is possible?  However, the author also says she has power and influence, in addition to the very vague “force of character.”  So we can assume that she did that, given her personality and the situation that got her here, but I will let you draw your own conclusions.

Once she determines who is behind the door, and what is behind which door, the princess also gets to make a choice.  If she tells her lover to pick the tiger, he will die but she will not have to watch him with another girl.  She does not seem to like that idea.

How her soul had burned in agony when she had seen him rush to meet that woman, with her flushing cheek and sparkling eye of triumph; when she had seen him lead her forth, his whole frame kindled with the joy of recovered life…

If she tells him to pick the lady, she can run off with him and tell him to forget the lady.  After all, she has force of personality!  The ending is ambiguous.  We do not know what door she picked.  The author tells us we can find the answer in human nature.  I think though, that we found our answer in that last quote.

Stockton seems to think this story is a personality test.  If you are a pessimist, you believe that she picked the tiger.  If you are an optimist, you believe that she picked the lady.  I think that you can have a more complex view of human nature that that.  Do you?

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

How did the princess discover what was behind each of the doors in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

The princess uses gold and willpower to find out what is behind both doors.

The semi-barbaric king has a unique system of justice.  He believes that fate will determine if a person is guilty or innocent, and that his system of justice will help it along.  He builds an arena with two doors.  The accused has to choose the door, and from it will emerge either a lady or a tiger.

If the tiger comes out of the door, the accused will instantly be devoured.  It will then be assumed that he was guilty. If the lady is on the other side of the door, the accused is considered innocent.  A wedding will immediately be held and the accused will marry her then and there. The trial is that quick. 

When the king’s princess takes a lover he does not approve of, into the arena he goes.  The princess is not content to let fate be the judge.  She decides to take matters into her own hands and find out what is behind what door.

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. … But gold, and the power of a woman's will, had brought the secret to the princess.

The lover knows that the princess will find out what is behind the doors.  He is aware of her character and her influence.  He knows she would never just stand back and let the trial happen without knowing what the outcome would be.

He had expected her to know it. He understood her nature, and his soul was assured that she would never rest until she had made plain to herself this thing, hidden to all other lookers-on, even to the king.

The lover looks up at the princess, knowing that she will direct him to a door.  Which door?  She may decide to direct him to the tiger, because if she can’t have him, no one can.  She may decide she can’t live without him, and direct him to the lady.  We will never know.

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

How did the princess discover what was behind each of the doors in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

In the story, the princess was said to have possessed "more power, influence, and force of character than any one who had ever before been interested in such a case." She had power because she was the king's daughter, great influence because of her position in society, and an implacable will because of her proud ancestry.

The text documents for us the princess' strong will, which is her heritage from her "semi-barbaric" father; even in love, her "ardor" for her lover had contained "enough of barbarism in it to make it exceedingly warm and strong." In essence, no citizen of her father's kingdom would have dared to thwart the princess' will, if her purpose was to discover what was behind each door.

The text also tells us that "gold, and the power of a woman's will, had brought the secret to the princess." This references the fact that the princess had likely bribed the necessary parties to reveal to her what lay behind each door. Either way, her payment in gold certainly allowed her to gain access to the inner sanctuaries of the tribunal, whose decisions regarding each trial were "positively determinate" and indisputable.

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

What does the princess know about the lady behind the door in the story "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

The princess knew that her lover had been arrested and she suspected the reason. She paid dearly for knowledge that not event he king himself had and that was which door the princess and therefore life for the man she loved would be behind. In her quest for this knowledge she learns that the woman that has been found for her lover is beautiful, perhaps even more beautiful than she. Not only was the woman beautiful, but it was a woman that her lover already knew and she had seen them speaking to one another in the square on occasion. She also thought that they might even like each other because they had exchanged admiring glances between them. She also knew that the woman was hopeful that her door would be chosen because the man was handsome and chivalrous and brave. She hates this woman who she does not even know because she knows that her lover will not be unhappy with his new wife should he choose the correct door.

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

What secret does the princess learn in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

In "The Lady or the Tiger," a young man who loves a princess must stand trial for daring to get above his station in wooing a royal. In this country, a trial consists of the accused opening one of two doors. Out of one door will jump a ravenous tiger that will eat the accused. In that case, it's assumed the accused is guilty. Out of a second door will come a beautiful maiden. If the accused chooses that door, he is assumed innocent and marries the maiden. 

The princess discovers which door the tiger and maiden are behind. She also discovers that the maiden is a beautiful woman who she is jealous of and who has shown an interest in the young man in the past. When the time comes, the young man looks to the princess to see what door to pick. The story ends there, leaving the reader to decide what door the princess directed her lover to open.

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

What secret does the princess learn in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

The "hot-blooded" princess in "The Lady or the Tiger?" by Frank Stockton uses "power and a woman's will" to learn the secret of the two doors in the king's arena.  Her lover faces a horrible death if she were to fail.  Not only does she uncover the secret of the doors, behind which will hide the tiger, but she also uncovered the identity of the lady in question.  With this knowledge, the princess' decision to save her handsome young lover becomes infinitely more complicated.  The princess just happens to hate the lady that will pose as a potential reward and bride to her lover should he choose the correct door.  The climax of the plot depends upon her decision to save her lover from a terrifying tiger or to see him wed blissfully in the arms of the one woman she hates most. 

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

How does the princess discover which of the two doors will hold the lady in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

While the posting above does not offer an answer according to the posted quote from the text, another quote from "The Lady or the Tiger?" offers a very different view. In the following quotes from the story, one can see that the Princess did, indeed, know about the doors and what they held.

And not only did she know in which room stood the lady ready to emerge, all blushing and radiant, should her door be opened, but she knew who the lady was.

All it took on the part of the Princess to gain this knowledge was gold and a little womanly intuition.

But gold, and the power of a woman's will, had brought the secret to the princess.

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

How does the princess discover which of the two doors will hold the lady in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

In the short story “The Lady or The Tiger,” Stockton does not reveal to the reader how the princess discovers which door the lady is standing behind.  The author simply writes, “He saw, by that power of quick perception which is given to those whose souls are one, that she knew behind which door crouched the tiger, and behind which stood the lady. He had expected her to know it. He understood her nature, and his soul was assured that she would never rest until she had made plain to herself this thing, hidden to all other lookers-on, even to the king. The only hope for the youth in which there was any element of certainty was based upon the success of the princess in discovering this mystery; and the moment he looked upon her, he saw she had succeeded, as in his soul he knew she would succeed.”

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

In "The Lady, or the Tiger?," the princess knows which door hides the tiger and which door hides the lady. Did the princess send her love to the lady or tiger?

This question is of course asked many times about this famous short story. However, what such a question fails to do is to miss the vital ambiguity that the author creates. There is nothing in the text that allows the reader's perception of the princess to be tipped towards either possible outcome. Just as time is spent where the horror of the princess is described at the thought of her beloved being torn limb from limb by the tiger, so too time is devoted to her equal horror at thinking of his surviving but being with another woman:

How in her grievous reveries had she gnashed her teeth, and torn her hair, when she saw his start of rapturous delight as he opened the door of the lady!

Both possibilities are equally anathema to the "semi-barbaric princess," and the purpose of the author in forcing her to confront a decision is not to supply a simple answer, but actually to pose a question to his audience that is impossible to answer definitively one way or the other, as the following quote makes clear:

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.

The whole purpose of this story is not to pose a conundrum to the reader with a definite answer that needs to be worked out, but to introduce the reader to the "devious mazes of passion" that make up the "study of the human heart." If there were a simple answer one way or another, it would detract from this focus.

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

What does the princess think of the lady chosen to stand behind one of the doors in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

The princess in "The Lady or the Tiger?" by Frank Stockton hates the lady who is behind one of the doors. She is jealous of her and despises the fact that she has seen this lady look at her lover with interest. The princess admits to herself that the lady is beautiful, but she cannot stand that the lady obviously admires the man with whom she is in love.

The princess has also noticed, not only that this lady has given her love admiring glances, but also that he sometimes returned them. So the big question is what emotion is greater in the princess: her love for the accused or her hatred for the lady? Her "semi-barbarbic" blood is a big clue for us, but we will probably never know how this interesting story played out in the end!

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