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JeSuisRickSpringfield's avatar

The lady, or the tiger (see details)?

Asked by JeSuisRickSpringfield (4442points) May 26th, 2012

Warning: 130-year-old spoilers ahead!

Frank Stockton’s short story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” tells the tale of a princess and the commoner that she has taken as a lover. When the affair is discovered, the commoner is subjected to an unusual test to determine his guilt or innocence. He is placed into an arena with two doors. Behind one door is a lady; behind the other, a tiger. Should he choose the door concealing the lady, he will be declared innocent and the lady shall become his bride. Should he choose the door concealing the tiger, he will declared guilty and the tiger shall kill him.

The twist in the story is that the princess knows what is concealed behind each door and is able to signal her lover from where she sits in the arena. She can only tell him to open one door or the other, however; she cannot tell him what is behind the door she indicates. The story leaves off with the princess directing her lover to the door on the right. It does not reveal what was behind the door. The question of which fate the princess chose for her lover has both fascinated and infuriated generations of readers.

The questions I pose, then, are these: Toward which door would you direct your lover if you were the princess, and why? Toward which door would you expect the princess to direct you if you were her lover, and why?

Extra credit: The original story can be found here. Are there any clues in the story that make you think the princess chose one way or another?

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17 Answers

bolwerk's avatar

The part that confuses me: if he’s boinking her, and this is a crime, why would he even be given the opportunity to marry her so he can keep boinking her?

tups's avatar

@bolwerk It’s not the princess he’s going to marry, but the lady in the door.

bolwerk's avatar

@tups: Ah. But he’s still getting rewarded for his sexual deviance. Or has a .5 chance of being rewarded, anyway.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

It’s a test of love over possession. I think it was already assumed the princess could signal him to choose one or the other. He was a commoner so the story didn’t worry too much about the man. If the princess had love enough for him as a person and not strictly her lover then she’d signal him to choose the door concealing the lady and they’d both be declared innocent. If she was too selfish to not let him go to another then she’d signal the door concealing the tiger and bear the stain to their reputations of being found guilty.

I’d let my lover live but I say that only because in my experiences, I now believe there can be more than one love for everyone. I believe my lover would do the same for me.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, if I were the princess I’d direct him to the lady. Then two weeks later I’d send WillWorkForChocolate after the chick with her magic shovel, and then I’d get my love back!

Neizvestnaya's avatar

@Dutchess_III: ha ha, that’s what friends are for!

LuckyGuy's avatar

Definitely, the Lady. A threesome with a tiger would get ugly very quickly.

CWOTUS's avatar

It’s pretty obvious to me which way she directed him. After all, the author takes great pains to explain how his daughter’s nature is just like the king’s.

augustlan's avatar

If I were the princess, I’d direct him to the lady. In the story, though, I think she’d actually point him to the tiger. What a bitch.

rooeytoo's avatar

To the tiger. So many guys, so little time.

bewailknot's avatar

I think the princess directed him to the tiger. Not only was she like her father in temperament, she was wildly jealous, suspecting him of interest in the other young lady. I think she would have seen it as “If I can’t have him no one can.”

I, on the other hand, am not jealous. I would have pointed him to the lady. There is nothing that says he has to be faithful to his new wife.

tups's avatar

I would be really jealous, but I would still point him to the lady. I don’t want to kill anybody.

wallabies's avatar

To the tiger. If he’s smart enough, he’ll figure out a way to survive. If he’s not, well, what @rooey said lol!

LuckyGuy's avatar

A better question might be: “Did he take her advice?”

bewailknot's avatar

@LuckyGuy Good point. If he knew her well he would know her intention. But then, how many men know their woman well?

JeSuisRickSpringfield's avatar

@bolwerk It’s supposed to be like a trial by fire: if you choose the door with the lady, the accusation that landed you in the arena is assumed to be false and you are assumed to be virtuous enough to deserve the reward with which luck has favored you.

@CWOTUS We had a debate after reading the story back in high school. At that time, I was sure it was the lady. Chalk it up to youthful idealism. These days, however, I am also convinced that it was the tiger. My wife thought it was the tiger even back in high school and has never changed her mind.

@LuckyGuy In the story, he does take her advice. In fact, he does so without hesitation.

CWOTUS's avatar

Hang onto that wife of yours, @JeSuisRickSpringfield. As I read this story now – for comprehension of the characters as written and not for thoughts of “what would I do if I were her” – I don’t see how there could ever be any doubt.

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