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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Which door did the young man open in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

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In "The Lady, or the Tiger?" one could argue that the young man opened the left door because he does not trust the princess. Stockton writes that the courtier knew the princess's soul and "understood her nature," which suggests that he is aware of her semi-barbaric disposition. If the young man truly knows the princess, he would recognize her jealous, savage nature and wisely choose the opposite door to avoid the hungry tiger.

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In Stockton's celebrated short story, the audience must determine which door the young man opens by examining his character and analyzing what he knows about the princess. The young man must consider the princess's background as well as the strength of their love. The young man certainly knows that the princess is in love with him and can tell that she knows what lies behind each door when he glances at her in the crowd. He also understands that she would never allow him to marry the fair maiden as a reward. The princess is an envious, selfish woman who prides herself in having her way and will never accept not having what she desires.

She has seen the young man flirting with the attractive maiden before and the two "throwing glances of admiration" at each other. One could imagine that she mentioned her displeasure to the young man at some point, and he knows she would never allow him to be with the maiden. The young man understands the princess's thought process and anticipates that she is trying to trick him. The princess is also a clever woman and expects the young man to choose the opposite of where she points. It would make sense that she would point to the door with the maiden behind it, knowing that he would choose the opposite. Knowing that the princess is deceiving him, the young man would choose the door on the right, which is presumably the safer option following this logic.

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Stockton does not specifically tell the reader what door the young courtier opens and purposely leaves it up to the reader for interpretation. The reader knows that the princess shares her father's "savage blood" and despises the beautiful maiden awaiting her lover behind one of the doors. A reader with a more cynical view of the world would more than likely determine that the princess would steer her lover towards the door with the hungry tiger to avoid witnessing him enjoy life with another woman. Readers with a more romantic, optimistic outlook on life believe that the princess would save her lover, even if it means he would marry another woman.

The question then becomes whether the young courtier trusts the princess enough to follow her instructions and choose the opposite door. If the young man is astute and perceptive, he would take into account the princess's semi-barbaric disposition and assume that she would lead him into grave danger. Therefore, he would make the wise decision to choose the opposite of what the princess advised.

Stockton does write that their "souls are one" and mentions that the young man "understood her nature." This would suggest that the young man is aware that the princess is envious enough to entertain the possibility of leading him towards the door with the tiger and wisely choose the opposite. If the young man trusts the princess, he would choose the door on the right, which is the door she hinted at. Personally, I believe that the young man chooses the opposite and opens the left door because he does not trust the princess and recognizes her savage nature.

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The young man has certain considerations:  The princess does love him, but she has seen him talking with a fair maiden and has become jealous as a result. And, she does have barbarism coursing through her blood. In addition, the princess knows the young woman who stands behind one door, a young coutier who has cast admiring looks at the young man many a time.

The girl was lovely, but she had dared to raise her eyes to the loved one of the princess; and, with all the intensity of the savage blood transmitted to her through long lines of wholly barbaric ancestors, she hated the woman sho bluched and trembled behind that silent door.

Yet, even though the young man knows that the princess is aware of who is behind the doors, when the princess indicates the door to the right, it is this same door that the young man chooses, also. He chooses the door to the right, the same that she has chosen because, he believes, she figures that he will think she is trying to trick him since she is jealous, so he will then choose the left door where lies the tiger.

When he chooses the right door, it should, then, be the one containing the fair maiden.

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Since we do not have any way of definitively knowing--the author made sure of that--we are all free to speculate. Here's my guess: she told him to open the door with the princess so her lover would live. THEN she will, at some point in time (probably sooner rather than later) she will do away with the beautiful princess and have her lover to herself again.

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I think that this question really needs to be moved to the discussion section given this is one of the questions many students have pondered over the years.

One could justify either door in actuality. Readers know that the princess is semi-barbaric, like her father. Perhaps the thought of her lover being with another woman is simply too much for her to take and she believes it would best for him to die.

One could also justify that the princess loves her lover too much to bear the thought of his death. For that reason, she would have lead him to the door that the beautiful woman would have come out of.

In all actuality, Stockton never leads the reader in one direction or another. He simply leaves the answer up to the mind of the reader alone.

That being said, ones answer would depend solely upon their own barbaric nature.

I myself would like to see the lover and the princess together, but since I cannot, who can resit a good 'ol slaughter?

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Which door did the lover of the princess open in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

Stockton purposely leaves this question unanswered at the end of the story as the young courtier receives the signal from the princess and walks towards the two doors that determine his fate. The answer is completely subjective and relies upon how the reader perceives the princess. The princess shares similar character traits with her father and is described as being semi-barbaric and hot-blooded. Despite being in love with the handsome courtier, she is also full of jealousy and despair when she discovers that he is attracted to his potential suitor. The reader's perception of human nature also plays a significant role in the conclusion of the story. If the reader feels that humans are inherently savage and hostile, they would more than likely believe that the princess condemned the courtier to death. However, if one believes that humans are intrinsically kind, compassionate beings, they would probably assume that the princess allowed the courtier to marry the attractive maiden. Personally, I believe the princess instructed the courtier to pick the door with the tiger behind it because of her jealous, vengeful nature.

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Which door did the lover of the princess open in "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

Nobody knows for sure, and we will never know! Isn't that maddening? The surprise, unresolved ending of the story has engendered many conversations about what the young man found behind the door. Did the princess love him enough to save his life by giving him up to another woman, or was she jealous and completely selfish? Would she rather see him dead than married to a beautiful woman whom she despised? The young man's fate depends on how the reader views the princess, in particular, and human nature, in general.

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Which door will the princess choose for her lover inĀ "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

This is a much debated question and I am sure that there will be other answers for you to look at, especially in the discussion postings. I will take a different approach on this and think about the crucial element that is exploited by Frank R. Stockton to great effect: ambiguity.

Ambiguity is a quality that allows something to be interpreted in several different - sometimes conflicting - ways. Ambiguity adds complexity to a story. It can make fiction seem more like real life, where we often encounter people and events that are puzzling and mysterious. It is ambiguity that made this story such an instant hit and has kept people asking and pondering your question for more than a century.

Therefore, the whole point about this story is that there is no answer - the author is highly skillful in ensuring that there is enough evidence to suggest that the princess could open either door rather than just going for one - on the one hand you have her fierce devotion for her love, but on the other hand reference is made to the "hot-blooded semibarbaric princess." As Stockton himself says:

The more reflect upon the question, the harder it is to answer.

Part of the sheer genius of this story is that it keeps us pondering and guessing, never certain of what the princess will ever do.

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