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 does the tiger symbolize in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

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The tiger in "The Lady, or the Tiger?" symbolizes a desire for vengeance or the temptation posed by the animal instincts that lie deep within human nature.

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The tiger symbolizes vengeance, or the savagery at the heart of human nature. In the story, the prisoner must choose a door. Behind one door lies a tiger and certain death; behind the other lies a bride and new life. The problem the story poses, however, is which one the princess will choose for her lover. If the door on the right contains the tiger, then she prevents her lover from marrying her enemy—in effect keeping him for herself, even at the cost of his life.

Her motivations for making that choice, however, are suspect. She is jealous of the woman behind the door, but not for anything more than having seen her speaking with her lover and seeing glances passed between them. This jealousy is an expression of her self-centeredness, a quality she shares with her father, who created the arena for his own amusement. In that sense, the princess does not love the youth in any real way; she is interested in him strictly as a possession, and sending him to the tiger would prevent anyone else from having him.

In this context, one could argue that the tiger represents a kind of self-destructive anger. In Freudian terms, perhaps it can be thought of as the id, that part of one's personality that responds to animal instinct. For the princess, the choice is clear: she can either obey this instinct or sacrifice her love in order to keep her lover safe.

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