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 tone of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" by Frank Stockton?

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The tone of the story is ironic. Irony is saying the opposite of what you really mean. In reality, Stockton (or, more precisely, his narrator) is appalled with this king and the way he dispenses so-called justice. For example, in the opening, the narrator calls the king "semi-barbaric" when, in fact, the story will show he is wholly barbaric. Again, instead of calling this king a sociopathic tyrant, the narrator says the following:

He was a man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts. He was greatly given to self-communing, and, when he and himself agreed upon anything, the thing was done. When every member of his domestic and political systems moved smoothly in its appointed course, his nature was bland and genial; but, whenever there was a little hitch, and 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.

It is ironic to say he was a man of "exuberant fancy" and turned fancies into "facts;" what that means is he brutally enforced whatever silly whim occurred to him. It is also ironic to say that crushing dissent rendered him "blander and more genial still." In fact, such behavior showed him to be a harsh and cruel despot.

When the narrator says that through watching the displays of "valor" in the king's arena, "the minds of his subjects were refined and cultured," the narrator really means that through watching bloody displays of barbarism, the king's subjects' minds were debased and coarsened.

The narrator says the king's system of justice

was an agent of poetic justice, in which crime was punished, or virtue rewarded, by the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance.

This is ironic because "chance," though impartial and incorruptible, is not actually justice.

And on it goes. The ironic narrative voice creates a distance from the acts of barbarism on display.

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The narrator in "The Lady or the Tiger?" adopts a forthright tone, one that is directly frank and without hesitation, throughout the majority of the story.  At the beginning of the tale, as the narrator describes the semi-barbaric king and his "florid fantasies," the narrator's tone is not judgmental or critical of the king's practices, but rather assesses them for what they are and continues to describe the events in interesting detail. 

It is important to note that the forthright tone of the narrator shifts to a more sympathetic tone as the poor, heroic youth enters the arena.  Here the narrator's diction emphasizes the reaction of the crowd to seeing the handsome youth for the first time:

"Tall, beautiful, fair, his appearance was greeted with a low hum of admiration and anxiety. Half the audience had not known so grand a youth had lived among them. No wonder the princess loved him! What a terrible thing for him to be there!"

The sympathetic tone of the narrator in this passage draws the reader in and builds on the emotion of the moment. 

Stockton's use of tone, from forthright to sympathetic, increases the emotional quality and context of "The Lady or the Tiger?"

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What is the difference between the author's tone and mood in "The Lady, or the Tiger?" by Frank Stockton?

Both tone and mood are set by the author of the story, and they are easily confused!  The tone is the feeling surrounding the story, or it can also be the feeling toward a character or subject within the story. For example, if a character says, "That gave me goosebumps," we might assume the character is nervous or excited. The author is purposefully using certain words, phrases, and sentences to set the tone. Tone is the way the author feels about his/her subject matter.

Mood, on the other hand, is what the reader feels as he/she reads the story. Again, the author wants the reader to feel a certain way whether it's joy and excitement or pity or fear or anger, etc. 

It may seem that both should be the same, right? Well, often they are very closely related, but in "The Lady or the Tiger?," author Frank Stockton is masterful in distinguishing between tone and mood. The tone is very lighthearted. Stockton seems to be poking fun at this king and his subjects. The story is written much like a fairytale, where a reader might fast forward in his/her head to, "And they all lived happily ever after."

However, as we read, we quickly become horrified by the events before us. This "semi-barbaric king" (Stockton 1), has a system for determining one's guilt or innocence, and no matter the outcome, someone most likely loses. The accused is either eaten by a tiger or forced to marry someone he/she may or may not love or who might already be married to someone else! 

So here is a story where the tone and mood are almost opposite to one another. 

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