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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What motivates the princess in "The Lady, or the Tiger?" to lead the man to a particular door?

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In the story, the princess knows that, if she leads her lover to the door with the tiger, her lover will be torn to pieces. Yet, despite this terrifying prospect, the princess wonders whether it wouldn't actually be "better for him to die at once, and go to wait for her in the blessed regions of semi-barbaric futurity." She imagines that if she cannot marry him on earth, death will eventually join them in wedded bliss.

The princess is also motivated to deny her lover the prospect of marriage to the beautiful courtier. The text tells us that with "all the intensity of the savage blood transmitted to her through long lines of wholly barbaric ancestors, she hated the woman who blushed and trembled behind that silent door." After all, this beautiful courtier had dared to "raise her eyes to the loved one of the princess." So, the princess' violent jealousy may motivate her to lead her lover to the door with the tiger.

Alternatively, the princess may be inspired to simply spare her lover the prospect of a terrifying and gruesome death. If this motivation holds sway, the princess will likely lead her lover to choose the door with the maiden. However, many think that, with the princess' jealous nature, the prospect of her sparing her lover a violent death is in doubt, despite her love for him.

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In "The Lady, or the Tiger?" by Frank Stockton, how did the princess learn which doors the lady and the tiger were behind?

In the "semi-barbaric kingdom" created by Frank Stockton in "The Lady or the Tiger?" a young man who did not have royal blood (a commoner) dared to do what no one else had done--he loved the princess. When the king determined that the young lover's fate was to be decided in the arena, the princess did what no one else had ever done--she discovered the "secret of the doors."

The arena is the place in which all matters of justice are impartially decided in this kingdom. Every young man sent into the arena is the master of his own fate, as he may choose either of the two doors which face him. Behind one is the fiercest (and hungriest) tiger in the land who will immediately attack and eat the man if the tiger's door is opened. Behind the other door is the most beautiful woman in the land, and if her door is opened the young man will immediately be married to her. 

The princess's lover, like all the other men who have come to the arena before him, must choose one of the doors. When he walks into the arena, he does not even look at the doors; the only thing he looks at is the princess, for he knows without a doubt that she has discovered the secret of the doors.

The semi-barbaric princess is there not only to see but to decide her lover's fate in the arena. If she directs him to one door, her lover will become another woman's husband; if he opens the other, her lover will be eaten alive. Neither option is acceptable to her, yet one of them will happen and she has determined that she must be the one to control her lover's fate.

From the moment that the decree had gone forth that her lover should decide his fate in the king's arena, she had thought of nothing, night or day, but this great event and the various subjects connected with it. 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. [G]old, and the power of a woman's will, had brought the secret to the princess. 

Two things, then, allowed the princess to learn behind which door was the lady and behind which door was the tiger: money (in the form of gold) and her semi-barbaric and determined will. She purposed to do what had never been done, and she did it. We can speculate that the princess learned who the keeper of the secret was (probably not a particularly difficult task) and then wore him down with her persistence and the enticing offer of a substantial bribe. Stockton implies that it was not a simple task when he references "the power of a woman's will," but she succeeded in her goal.

The much more difficult thing for the princess to do, though, is decide which door she should send her lover to open. 

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