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 is the mood of "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

Quick answer:

The tone of the story is playful, serious, and curious. Note: I am not arguing that the story is a modern one. It may be a tale about an ancient kingdom. The point is that the language makes this ambiguous and therefore forces the reader to make choices about what he/she reads. Notes: The idea of choice is important in this story because it forces the reader to think about what would drive a person to make either decision or even if they would "choose" at all. Why did Stockton choose these two doors? What was his intent? What do you think? If you like, look up other versions of "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

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The mood or feeling in this story is passionate, tense and full of suspense.  "The Lady and The Tiger" has a chilling and barbaric mood that makes the reader anxious. 

Feelings run very high in this story, dark feelings of hatred, envy, and anguish over lost love dominate the story.  When...

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the princess and the courtier are separated and he must choose the correct door, the lady or the tiger, the mood is tense and full of anticipation.  A feeling of dread is present in the reader, what if he chooses the wrong door, then he will be ripped to pieces.

Should he trust the princess?  Or will she exact her revenge on the young beautiful courtier who awaits the courtier behind one door.  The princess hates her, envies her, does not want her to marry her love.   This choice, that the courtier makes without hesitation makes the reader very nervous, and then, we don't know the outcome, we are left to imagine.

"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 person 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?" (Stockton) 

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How would you describe the tone of "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

You could argue that the story is playful, serious, and curious. The story has a playful tone in that the language is old-fashioned and Romantic but with a satiric and sometimes sarcastic intent. The king is "semi-barbaric" and was "given to self-communing." In other words, even if he is only barbaric some of the time, he is barbaric in principle. So, he is barbaric, plain and simple. He only communes with himself and this means that he doesn't listen to or take advice from others. He is like, or considers himself to be like, a semi-vengeful god. Stockton uses these phrases to dance around the direct meanings and get the reader to think. He is also playing with the idea of interpretation and choice. 

Note that the king allows the courtier a choice between one of two doors. Like a semi-barbaric god, he gives the courtier semi-free will. So, the courtier has choice but that choice is limited. What is Stockton doing here? It seems like he is being purposefully playful in provoking the reader to analyze what he is doing. Is it an invitation to the reader to consider what free will really is in a religious context or in the political context of kings and subjects? Just as the courtier must choose, the reader must choose. 

So, as much as the author is being playful and making satiric and sarcastic suggestions about human exploitation of power and the limits of free will, he is also asking serious questions about how far (or how little) humanity has progressed. And playing (seriously) with the notions of free will and choice, Stockton leaves it to the reader to decide what the princess's final decision is. Even if this is a tale about a kingdom long ago (and this is not clear either), would a modern reader conclude that the princess directs the courtier to the tiger? And if that is the case, what does that say about the modern reader's perception of human frailty? This is the beauty of the story. The author is playful, satiric, and serious. His tone combines all of these notions as he asks the reader to think for him/herself. Given that, you could also argue that he subtly shows his curiosity about how the reader will interpret the story and/or what the reader will conclude about the princess's decision. 

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What is the tone of "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

Frank Stockton adopts a tongue-in-cheek tone in "The Lady, or the Tiger?" Tongue-in-cheek writing pretends to be straight-faced and sincere, but it is really joking and ironic.

Stockton's narrator, for example, is tongue-in-cheek as he describes the tyrannical, sociopathic king of a mythic kingdom in a lighthearted way. For example, he calls him "semi-barbaric" when his behavior is utterly barbaric. The narrator speaks in amused tones about how this king operates, saying that when

some of his orbs got out of their orbits, he was blander and more genial still, for nothing pleased him so much as to make the crooked straight and crush down uneven places.

What the narrator means is that this dictator is anything but truly bland and genial in crushing his opposition. Instead, he is ruthless. Likewise, when the narrator says that in the "public arena ... the minds of his subjects were refined and cultured," he means the opposite. Watching such bloodthirsty spectacles as a person having to choose between two doors, behind one of which is a bloodthirsty tiger, will encourage the baser instincts in his people, not refine them.

This lighthearted tone about such cruel practices creates a tension that helps propel the story forward by amusing and, at the same time, horrifying us with this king's heartless antics. It creates a distance between what is going on and how we react to it. In the end, by using such tongue-in-cheek distancing, Stockton helps readers to focus on thinking logically, rather than emotionally, about whether the princess has her beloved choose the door with the tiger behind it or the one with the maiden.

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What is the tone of "The Lady, or the Tiger?"

The tone of a story is the attitude that comes across from the author about the subject. In Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger?" the sentence structures are highly complex and the vocabulary is elevated. These devices are used to help the author show a dignified and authoritative voice, which appropriately links it to the story of a king and his way of ruling. Also, the details provided about the way the king rules are stated factually and without passion. This attitude of the king (and author) extends to the way the king views the way he rules and how he deals with his daughter's boyfriend. Since the king doesn't show any unnecessary emotion, he simply hands out sentences and allows the arena to take care of the accused. Therefore, the tone for most of the story seems factual and emotionally indifferent. However, as the plot thickens, and the lover is about to discover his fate based on what the princess tells him to choose, the tone seems critical and important which creates a highly intense and suspenseful mood full of intrigue.

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