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 are examples of irony and the main conflict in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

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The irony in "The Lady, or the Tiger?" is that either choice the princess makes means that she will lose her beloved forever. If the princess signals him to open the door that unleashes the tiger, he dies a horrible and painful death, and she suffers. If she signals him to open the door to a beautiful young woman, she loses him forever and suffers. Yet, in the latter choice, she saves him from death.

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There are two examples of situational irony in Frank Stockton's short story "The Lady or the Tiger." Situational irony is a contrast between what is expected to happen and what actually exists or happens. In the story a "semi-barbaric" king sets up a system of justice whereby an accused criminal...

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determines his own fate with a simple choice. He is led into an arena with two doors. Behind one of the doors is a tiger, which would kill him, and behind the other door is a lady, to whom he would be married. This "justice" is highly ironic because an accused man who was actually guilty could end up choosing the lady and thwarting the law by walking away a free man. On the other hand, an innocent man may choose the tiger and be brutally punished for something he never did. 

The second example of irony is in the fact that the princess discovers the secret of the doors when her lover is accused and set to stand trial in the arena. What the king had believed to be "incorruptible" has become corrupted by his own daughter. The system of justice, which had been conceived as flawless and completely fair, has been altered by the whims of one person.

That the princess's lover is accused and set to go into the arena provides the major conflict in the story. The princess suffers from an internal conflict over her lover. Because she learns the secret of the doors she is torn between saving her lover, who would then be married to a woman who is despised by the princess, or allowing him to be devoured by the tiger. While the narrator presents arguments for each choice, he never provides a resolution and the reader is left to decide whether the princess saved her lover or had him killed out of jealousy.

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What is the type and examples of irony in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

"The Lady, or the Tiger?" uses dramatic irony.  Dramatic irony occurs when the character, usually the protagonist, does not understand or know some critical truth, but the audience or reader fully understands the entire situation.  Dramatic irony creates a discrepancy in perspective; for the moment, the audience or reader knows more than the character actually in the story.  In "The Lady, or the Tiger?" dramatic irony unfolds as the hero steps out into the arena, and the narrator reveals that the princess knows the secret of the doors, and not only that, but she cannot decide whether she should let the tiger eat him or allow him to be married to her much hated rival. 

Situational irony also occurs as the hero willingly trusts the princess' direction on which door to choose.  His unwavering faith in her is a sharp contrast to her debate on whether or not she would rather see him dead or alive and married.

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What is the irony in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

The irony in "The Lady, or the Tiger?" is that whatever the princess decides, she loses. Specifically, regardless of which door she signals to her lover to open, she still will lose her beloved forever. If she signals that he should open the door that unleashes the tiger, her beloved will be mauled to death in a horrible and painful struggle. Conversely, if she signals him to open the door behind which stands another beautiful young woman, she will also lose him forever, because he will then marry the other woman.

Therefore, she must decide if she will be selfless and save his life, even when it means watching him live with another woman, or if she will favor her own personal feelings and jealousy and send him to his death.

The moral choice is to allow him to live, even if the princess must suffer as she sees him married to another woman. Her altruism should serve as her reward: she holds the ability to save her beloved’s life, and she should use this power, even though she will be unhappy without him.

However, another ironic fact in the story is that despite her strong love for the young man, she is also bears personality traits that resemble those of her "semi-barbaric" father. This side of her could overpower the love she possesses—and any selflessness she might possess—and lead her to send her beloved to his death.

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