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

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The reader may assume that the lover knows the "semi-barbaric" princess quite well in Frank Stockton's short story "The Lady or the Tiger." After all, he is labeled as her lover. In fact, the man is tried in the king's arena precisely because he has become too close to the princess. The reader is informed that the relationship has been going on for many months and that the princess was "well satisfied with her lover" and "loved him with an ardor that had enough of barbarism in it to make it exceedingly warm and strong." 

The real evidence that the lover knows the princess well comes toward the end, when the man enters the arena to choose between the two doors. Behind one door was the tiger and the other, the lady. The lover knows instinctually that the princess has discovered the secret of the doors. Stockton 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."

The reader is led to believe that these two are soulmates as Stockton continues:

"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 question, however, is whether the princess will let her lover fall into the hands of the lady, whom she despises, for she had grown jealous when seeing the two together on rare occasions. For his part, the lover totally trusts the princess. He must believe that he knows her well because he doesn't hesitate in going to the door that she points too. 

But, does he really know her? Stockton never says, and it has been the topic of debate since the story was written.

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