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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Discussion Topic

The purpose and effect of the ambiguous ending in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

Summary:

The ambiguous ending of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" serves to engage the reader in the story by leaving the outcome unresolved. This open-ended conclusion compels readers to consider the nature of human emotions and the complexity of the characters' motivations, ultimately reflecting on their own interpretations of justice and jealousy.

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Did Stockton leave "The Lady, or the Tiger?" ambiguous for a specific effect?

When Stockton left the ending of the story ambiguous, he was creating a psychological test that would tell you what kind of person you were based on who you think she chose.

Stockton describes a story where a semi-barbaric king develops a system of justice where the accused has to choose between two doors.  Behind one door is a tiger that will maul him to death; behind the other door is a beautiful lady for him to marry.  The king has complete faith in his system of justice.

The inevitable happens.  The king’s daughter falls in love with a young man, and he does not approve.  He sentences the young man to his special arena, and his semi-barbaric daughter finds out what is behind each door.  She must choose whether he will die or marry her rival.

Stockton never tells us how the story ends.  Which one did she choose?  At this point, Stockton directly addresses the reader.

The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered, and it is not for me to presume to set myself up as the one per-son able to answer it. And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door - the lady, or the tiger?

So of course, the reader will wonder.  Basically, if you are a cynical person you are going to think that she killed him.  If you are a romantic, you will think she let him live.

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Why did Stockton leave the ending of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" ambiguous?

There are several reasons why Stockton might have left the end of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" ambiguous. Perhaps one of the clearest reasons is to stimulate discussion and controversy among readers. This is Stockton's most famous story, and it is regularly taught in literature classes and in creative writing classes as an example of a surprise ending. This iconic status the story enjoys is a function of its ambiguity. Furthermore, one of the reasons writers write anything is because they want readers to think about the ideas they raise. The ambiguous ending of the story is one that makes the reader think.

One might, however, approach the question from the opposite perspective. Why would Stockton have chosen to end the story with the door opening to reveal either the lady or the tiger? Both of these endings seem rather flat and perhaps also too didactic in what they would claim to reveal about human nature. If the lady is behind the door, the story becomes a sentimental fable about the selflessness of true love. If the tiger emerges to tear the young courtier to pieces, it is a cynical story about possessive jealousy. In either case, that story would be inferior to the one Stockton actually wrote.

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Why did Stockton leave the ending of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" ambiguous?

That's all well and good , ask996--until he has to face an enraged, semi-barbaric, former-lover princess.  Wouldn't want to face that!  This story was originally published in a kind of magazine or newspaper form, and the public outcry was phenomenal.  Everyone wanted to know which was the "right" answer, and Stockton gave a simple answer:  I'll make people unhappy whichever side I might choose, so I choose neither.  He claimed he really had no idea, and that is, perhaps, believable.  If he had chosen any other women, the answer would have been the lady.  Given the history between them, though, the answer is anything but clear--and he liked it that way.

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Why did Stockton leave the ending of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" ambiguous?

You guys really think the ending’s ambiguous? I thought Stockton made it very clear:D LOL My favorite theory goes like this. The lady knew who the girl was. She knew what door the girl was behind. She hated the girl because she’d seen her lover and the girl flirting. So when she indicated what door her lover should choose it was the one behind which the tiger was located. After all she did have a barbaric nature. However, her lover knew her nature. He would know she would find out. He would know that she would not want him to be with another woman. He would know that she would send him to the door with the tiger, so, knowing her nature he chose the door opposite the one to which she directed him, and thus he ended up with the beautiful girl anyway.

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Why did Stockton leave the ending of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" ambiguous?

I don't suppose we can know exactly why the author ended the story by not resolving the dramatic tension and providing a conclusion. One thing we do know, however, is that it is the ambiguous ending that has made this story very memorable and much discussed. It is the ending that has made this story so well known. Readers supply their own endings, based upon their interpretation of the context clues and their personal beliefs about human nature.

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