The Lady, or the Tiger? Choosing Between Love and Jealousy.
The Lady, or the Tiger? is a classic short story written by Frank R. Stockton, originally published in 1882. Stockton is known for this piece of work, and it is easy to see why.
This story presents you with a question. A question that burns into your memory and won’t let you forget it, even when years have passed.
This marvelous piece of work will make you think. If you enjoy a quick read full of suspense, this story is for you. If you don’t like tales that have less-than-happy endings, you will want to avoid this one.
Now, a synopsis. Be forewarned, there will be complete spoilers from here on out. (Here is a link to the free e-book if you wish to read The Lady, or the Tiger?)
A long time ago there was a semi-barbaric king with a unique way of judging the guilt or innocence of his subjects. The accused is put into an arena and forced to choose between two doors. Behind one is a starving tiger. Behind the other is a carefully selected lady. The accused opens a door and is immediately killed by the tiger or married to the lady.
The king discovers that his daughter has a lover of lower status. He throws the young man into prison and calls for a trial. Before the judgment day comes, the princess discovers which door will hide the tiger, and which the lady.
The princess also knows the lady who was chosen. The princess has seen, or imagined she has seen, this lady casting looks of admiration on the young man. It has caused the princess to burn with jealousy. Her thoughts are consumed with the outcome of the trial. How terrible would it be to watch her lover die? How much worse would it be to watch him marry this lady, to hear the celebrating trumpets, to see the stark joy on his face at having escaped death, and to watch, helpless, as he leads his new bride away?
The day of judgment comes. The young man walks out over the sands. He turns to face the princess and says, “Which?”. She lifts her right hand, and the young man turns without hesitation to open the door she indicates.
This leaves us with the question: “Which came out of the opened door – the lady, or the tiger?”
We are inclined to answer the question as we would have chosen. People argue over what the correct answer is. But what if Stockton never intended for there to be one right answer? He never hinted at what it could be before he died. At the end of the story he turns his writing outward, to the reader, to ask the question.
He has handed us a mirror. Would you do what is morally right or follow carnal nature? Are you a cynic, or an optimist?
This leads to what could be the core of the question. Which emotion is stronger; love, or jealousy? Love leads to giving the young man life, despite the depth of your personal loss. Jealousy leads to the tiger and death.
This story beautifully portrays the human mind and heart, and the wars waged between contradictory emotions. It makes us look to ourselves and ask…
Love, or jealousy? …The Lady, or the Tiger?
What do you think was behind the door?