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 princess indicate to her lover in the arena?

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With a slight movement of her hand, which no one but her lover notices, the princess indicates her lover to open the door on the right. It is there that the story stops and the writer asks the reader to decide whether she directed her lover to open the door with the tiger, who would ravage him to death, or the woman, who her father would order him to marry. The question is complicated by the fact that the princess knows that the woman that stands behind one of the doors is her rival for her lover's hand. So as the writer asks: does she sit through the awful spectacle of seeing her lover torn to pieces by the tiger or live through life with the knowledge that the love of her life has married her rival?

And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door,—the lady, or the tiger?

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Frank Stockton's short story "The Lady or the Tiger" is about a "semi-barbaric" king who believes he has invented the perfect system of justice. The most important crimes in the kingdom are decided in an arena. The accused is brought to the center of the amphitheater and given the choice of two doors. Behind one door is a ferocious tiger which, upon being chosen, leaps out and kills the accused, thus proving his guilt. If he chooses the other door, a lady comes out and they are instantly married, proving his innocence. 

When the lover of the king's daughter is brought into the arena for having dared loved the princess, he is presented with the two doors. The princess, as her lover had deduced, knew which door he should choose. Stockton writes:

Her right arm lay on the cushioned parapet before her. She raised her hand, and made a slight, quick movement toward the right. No one but her lover saw her. Every eye but his was fixed on the man in the arena.

This statement basically ends the plot of the story. Stockton never reveals whether the tiger or the lady came out of the door on the right. Some may guess the princess had mercy on the man she loved and was willing to give him up to save his life. Others, however, may surmise that the "semi-barbaric" princess would never want to see another woman marry her lover, and so the tiger leapt out of the door and ripped him to pieces.

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