Short Story #2 – The Lady Or The Tiger? By Frank Stockton

The Lady Or The Tiger? by Frank Stockton can be found here

Interesting to note that The Lady Or The Tiger? was written in 1882, meaning both short stories, so far, have been written before 1900. But maybe this is because they are no longer under copyright so therefore can be online, whilst the ones that aren’t online are more recent and are still under copyright.

Again with the kings. This time a ‘semi-barbaric’ one. I must say that the vocabulary is greatly improved compared to The Three Questions, wonder if it will have such a nice message. He has a public arena, kinda like the Romans with their coliseum and gladiators, right? How exactly does seeing men killing each other or animals improving the minds of the public, or is this why he is ‘semi-barbaric’ cause he believes violence and carnage is good for the people and good entertainment. It also serves to provide punishment and judgement of ‘wrongdoers’, interesting that Stockton accepts the fact that the ‘idea’ was borrowed from afar.

So the ‘judgement and punishment’ is the choice between two doors. One leads to your death by a hungry tiger and ‘hired mourners’ (as in the king pays people to wail?) will lament the death, even though it was a punishment for a crime. Slightly odd, sure people can be sad that the man died, but he (or she of course) did commit a crime, and ultimately chose their own path. Not to say that criminals deserve death, they do not, but do people go to see this just to know if the man will survive, or more to see the guy mauled to death? And the other door leads to a woman, who is ‘right for his years’ (like she is beautiful and of a similar age?) and they immediately get married (even if the man or woman doesn’t want to) and does the woman get no say, the man isn’t necessarily good for her, though probably at the time, women had no rights. And even if he were married and had children or fancied someone else, he HAD TO marry this random woman. This king is crazy. I bet someone comes along and breaks the king’s ‘nice’ system. Interesting that this ‘choice’ is supposed to prove the man’s innocence, how is the even justifiable, it’s plain luck.

It isn’t fair at all (is Stockton being ironic or satirical here?) an innocent man (or guilty) could easily choose the wrong door and be killed (or not) whether they deserved it or not! Though in a way no matter which door you choose, there could still be punishment, marriage doesn’t always mean happiness no matter who you marry. And the town loves it because, they don’t know what is going to happen? Why did people watch others die, like gladiators and also when people were hanged, was it more that they were required to, or actually wanted to see people die and get injured. Maybe they were just barbaric, or maybe it is our true human nature.Also, the thinkers in the land, couldn’t fault it, because the accused had it all in their own hands. So it is the accused’s fault if he were to pick the door with the tiger, because that would automatically mean he was guilty. Right…

So the king’s daughter and some poor lad were in ‘love’ and were having a relationship, when the king found out about it, and threw the lad in jail to face THE TWO DOORS!!! So the tiger cages were searched across the land to find the most ferocious tiger of all, and every maiden was ‘carefully surveyed by competent judges’ (whatever the hell that means) for the best maiden. So he deserved the most extreme of trails, one with the worst ending or one with the ‘best’. I’m surprised the king just didn’t kill him then and there, and allowed him a chance to live. Maybe he is so deranged that he things the doors will make sure he is killed because ‘they are always right’. So even though he is guilty, cause obviously he did it, the king must continue with the ‘tradition’, the king justifies this easily because it is to see if he did any wrong for allowing himself to love his daughter, quite strange really.

People were surprised at the beauty of the youth, does this mean that the audience don’t want him dead now, even if he is guilty. And the princess apparently knows which door is which, through something like a ‘woman’s intuition’ (correct me if I am wrong, because that was all I got out of it). And she knows the woman behind one of the doors, and hates her, because her man once spoke to her (jealousy), so in a way she almost wants him to die, so no one can have him. So she signals to the man to go to the right, because that is the ‘safe’ one. I get the feeling that this ISN’T the safe one at all, she wants him dead instead of in the arms of the other woman. But the man trusted her, and went to the right door.

OH MY! What a lovely ending, it is completely and utterly up to us, to decide which came out of the door; the lady or the tiger? Smart ending indeed. Interesting that both ideas are played out to us, that she couldn’t stand him dying from a tiger but also couldn’t stand being married to the woman whom she hates. Such a question to ask! No wonder wikipedia said it was ‘much anthologized’ and I’m sure this has provided much debate. It is most certainly a though-experiment. The trusting souls might automatically believe that she wouldn’t want him dead, but the more suspicious souls would think that she would kill him. It is such a great ending, because it leaves it up to us. Other stories do this often, many are open-ended, at least to a degree, so we can decide the ultimate fate of any of the characters, and plenty of fan-fiction is based after the actual story happens. But this is the ultimate open-ended story, there is no real ending, because it is left up to us to decide. So what are your thoughts, did the lady or the tiger come out of the door? It’s kinda like a {word I cannot think of} when you think it is one thing, but then think maybe the other person is deceiving you so you choose the opposite, but then think maybe the person wanted you to change, so you don’t change (kinda like a red herring but not) and I have no idea what the word is and it has escaped me for over an hour but will most likely come to my mind much later. Anyways, it’s a really good question and a really good short story. I do have to say that the vocabulary is good and varied, but sometimes I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on, maybe the different writing style from pre-1900 compared to what I’m used to, threw me a bit, but you get what is happening easily.

All the short stories I’ve reviewed here, have had interesting messages or a good ending, this one has a great ending. I think the remaining 7, will live up to these standards. The next short story is W.W. Jacobs’s  The Monkey’s Paw


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