Access to the online short story: The Lady, or the Tiger, by Frank R. Stockton
‘The Lady, or the Tiger?’ is an American classical short story written by Frank R. Stockton, a humorist and a writer, in year 1882. He was born
‘The Lady, or the Tiger?’ began with a description of a “semi-barbaric” king who ruled his kingdom with a heavy-hand. He enjoyed turning his wild imagination into facts. Inspired by his implacable will, he utilized an unusual form of administering justice for offenders in his kingdom. The offender could determine his own fate by selecting one of the two closed doors in the arena. He was forced by nothing and led by no one. Behind one door stood a beautiful lady hand-picked by the king and behind another door hid a ravenous tiger. If the offender picked the door with the beautiful lady behind it, he would be declared innocent and as a reward, he must marry that lady under the witness of the king, regardless of previous marital status. If the offender opened the door with the tiger behind it, then he would be deemed guilty and the tiger would tear him to pieces. The uncertain ending of the offender pleased the king and the people in the kingdom a lot, except women, who were always the victims of the system.
The king had a daughter that who was also semi-barbaric. She was the apple of his eye. One day, the king found out that the princess had taken a lover far beneath her station. He could not accept this and so he threw the suitor into prison and set a day for his trial in the arena. On the trial day, the suitor stood in the arena and looked at the princess who sat on the right side of the king. When his eyes met hers, he knew right away that the princess knew the secret behind the doors. Through telepathy, he quickly asked the princess for some indication of which door to pick. The princess was actually in quandary. If she indicated the door with the tiger, her lover would be killed on the spot. However, if she indicated the door with the lady, her lover would be forced to marry another woman, and even though he would be alive she would never be with him. Despite the dilemma, the princess responded to her lover’s question in a second. But it had been made after days and nights of deep and painful thought. The princess gave a sign to the right. Without hesitation, the suitor walked to the door on the right and opened it. At this point, the story abruptly stopped and the author left the question to the reader, “Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady?”
This is a great story. I like the story but not the abrupt ending, especially when the story is a cliffy. The author placed the princess, as well as the reader, in a predicament. Making a decision is hard; making a decision for a woman is even harder, as illustrated in one Chinese saying that equates the difficulty of predicting a woman’s heart as finding a needle in an ocean. If a decision must be made for the princess, I think the suitor should be led to the door with the lady behind it. But, Wait! Do not premeditate my intention; I have additional reasons to support the decision. The law forces a man to marry a lady if he did choose the right door, regardless of his previous marital status. Is there a suggestion that polygamy is legal in the kingdom? If so, the princess could marry the suitor later, regardless of the suitor’s previous marital status. At the end, the princess could save her lover and could live happily with him again.