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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How does the princess's choice in "The Lady, or the Tiger?" reflect her own character?

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In Frank Stockton's short story "The Lady or the Tiger," the princess must make a very difficult decision. The princess must decide to send her love to either meet his death at the jaws of a tiger or be married immediately to a beautiful woman.

The princess is described as possessing a "soul as fervent and imperious as his (her semi-barbaric father) own.  Therefore, it would be understandable if the princess were to send her love to the tiger. The princess can be compared to both the lady or the tiger regarding the decision that she makes regarding her lover's fate.

The princess' choice to send her lover to the tiger wold show her own character to be merciless--like a tiger. Therefore, if the princess were to send her lover to the tiger, she would be able to be characterized as one.

If the princess were to choose to send her love to the door of the beautiful woman, one could consider her a true lady. This action would confirm her ability to push past her semi-barbaric nature and allow her love to marry another woman.

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Did the princess choose the lady or the tiger?

This is an excellent opportunity to stretch your mind in three directions: First, there is no tiger, no door, no choice. Like Magritte’s painting of a pipe (called “This is not a pipe”) , it is time to distinguish between the “signified” and the “signifier” – between the actual object or physical reality, and its “symbol,” whether a word or a drawing or gesture. Man’s mind has the ability to put the world into communicable form; we have even progressed to finding signifiers for abstractions – look at the “heart” gesture “made with the hands” that you see at music concerts. We all know it means “I am loving this musical moment, and you the musician.” In the anecdotal story of the lady and the tiger, the author is using these words – lady, tiger, door – to signify the difficult and character-revealing choice the “protagonist” has to make. The fact that the author chooses not to “signify” the actual choice is because he/she wants the story to be “about the difficulty.” It’s like asking “Why does the whale not die?” in Moby Dick – that’s not what Melville was trying to articulate. Second, the art and craft of fiction-writing are complicated skills, and you, the reader, have an opportunity here to examine how you were drawn into believing, for a moment, that such an incident actually happened. We can feel the tension, even hear the breathing, as the fictional story is told. Thirdly, you can analytically compare this choice-making story with such literature as Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” or any number of tales of difficult-choice stories, and glean some psychological solace out of knowing you are not alone in your Angst when confronted with a difficult choice.

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