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The Tiger Or The Lady Essaytyper

Today's story is “The Lady, or the Tiger?” by Frank R. Stockton. Here is Barbara Klein with the story.

Long ago, in the very olden time, there lived a powerful king. Some of his ideas were progressive. But others caused people to suffer.

One of the king’s ideas was a public arena as an agent of poetic justice. Crime was punished, or innocence was decided, by the result of chance. When a person was accused of a crime, his future would be judged in the public arena.

All the people would gather in this building. The king sat high up on his ceremonial chair. He gave a sign. A door under him opened. The accused person stepped out into the arena. Directly opposite the king were two doors. They were side by side, exactly alike. The person on trial had to walk directly to these doors and open one of them. He could open whichever door he pleased.

If the accused man opened one door, out came a hungry tiger, the fiercest in the land. The tiger immediately jumped on him and tore him to pieces as punishment for his guilt. The case of the suspect was thus decided.

Iron bells rang sadly. Great cries went up from the paid mourners. And the people, with heads hanging low and sad hearts, slowly made their way home. They mourned greatly that one so young and fair, or so old and respected, should have died this way.

But, if the accused opened the other door, there came forth from it a woman, chosen especially for the person. To this lady he was immediately married, in honor of his innocence. It was not a problem that he might already have a wife and family, or that he might have chosen to marry another woman. The king permitted nothing to interfere with his great method of punishment and reward.

Another door opened under the king, and a clergyman, singers, dancers and musicians joined the man and the lady. The marriage ceremony was quickly completed. Then the bells made cheerful noises. The people shouted happily. And the innocent man led the new wife to his home, following children who threw flowers on their path.

This was the king’s method of carrying out justice. Its fairness appeared perfect. The accused person could not know which door was hiding the lady. He opened either as he pleased, without having knowing whether, in the next minute, he was to be killed or married.

Sometimes the fierce animal came out of one door. Sometimes it came out of the other.

This method was a popular one. When the people gathered together on one of the great trial days, they never knew whether they would see a bloody killing or a happy ending. So everyone was always interested. And the thinking part of the community would bring no charge of unfairness against this plan. Did not the accused person have the whole matter in his own hands?

The king had a beautiful daughter who was like him in many ways. He loved her above all humanity. The princess secretly loved a young man who was the best-looking and bravest in the land. But he was a commoner, not part of an important family.

One day, the king discovered the relationship between his daughter and the young man. The man was immediately put in prison. A day was set for his trial in the king’s public arena. This, of course, was an especially important event. Never before had a common subject been brave enough to love the daughter of the king.

The king knew that the young man would be punished, even if he opened the right door. And the king would take pleasure in watching the series of events, which would judge whether or not the man had done wrong in loving the princess.

The day of the trial arrived. From far and near the people gathered in the arena and outside its walls. The king and his advisers were in their places, opposite the two doors. All was ready. The sign was given. The door under the king opened and the lover of the princess entered the arena.

Tall, beautiful and fair, his appearance was met with a sound of approval and tension. Half the people had not known so perfect a young man lived among them. No wonder the princess loved him! What a terrible thing for him to be there!

As the young man entered the public arena, he turned to bend to the king. But he did not at all think of the great ruler. The young man’s eyes instead were fixed on the princess, who sat to the right of her father.

From the day it was decided that the sentence of her lover should be decided in the arena, she had thought of nothing but this event.

The princess had more power, influence and force of character than anyone who had ever before been interested in such a case. She had done what no other person had done. She had possessed herself of the secret of the doors. She knew behind which door stood the tiger, and behind which waited the lady. Gold, and the power of a woman’s will, had brought the secret to the princess.

She also knew who the lady was. The lady was one of the loveliest in the kingdom. Now and then the princess had seen her looking at and talking to the young man.

The princess hated the woman behind that silent door. She hated her with all the intensity of the blood passed to her through long lines of cruel ancestors.

Her lover turned to look at the princess. His eye met hers as she sat there, paler and whiter than anyone in the large ocean of tense faces around her. He saw that she knew behind which door waited the tiger, and behind which stood the lady. He had expected her to know it.

The only hope for the young man was based on the success of the princess in discovering this mystery. When he looked at her, he saw that she had been successful, as he knew she would succeed.

Then his quick and tense look asked the question: “Which?” It was as clear to her as if he shouted it from where he stood. There was not time to be lost.

The princess raised her hand, and made a short, quick movement toward the right. No one but her lover saw it. Every eye but his was fixed on the man in the arena.

He turned, and with a firm and quick step he walked across the empty space. Every heart stopped beating. Every breath was held. Every eye was fixed upon that man. He went to the door on the right and opened it.

Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady?

The more we think about this question, the harder it is to answer. It involves a study of the human heart. Think of it not as if the decision of the question depended upon yourself. But as if it depended upon that hot-blooded princess, her soul at a white heat under the fires of sadness and jealousy. She had lost him, but who should have him?

How often, in her waking hours and in her dreams, had she started in wild terror, and covered her face with her hands? She thought of her lover opening the door on the other side of which waited the sharp teeth of the tiger!

But how much oftener had she seen him open the other door? How had she ground her teeth, and torn her hair, when she had seen his happy face as he opened the door of the lady! How her soul had burned in pain when she had seen him run to meet that woman, with her look of victory. When she had seen the two of them get married. And when she had seen them walk away together upon their path of flowers, followed by the happy shouts of the crowd, in which her one sad cry was lost!

Would it not be better for him to die quickly, and go to wait for her in that blessed place of the future? And yet, that tiger, those cries, that blood!

Her decision had been shown quickly. But it had been made after days and nights of thought. She had known she would be asked. And she had decided what she would answer. And she had moved her hand to the right.

The question of her decision is one not to be lightly considered. And it is not for me to set myself up as the one person able to answer it. And so I leave it with all of you:

Which came out of the open door – the lady, or the tiger?

The story was written by Frank Stockton in 1882. It was adapted for VOA Learning English by Shelley Gollust. The storyteller was Barbara Klein.

Now it’s your turn. Write to us in the comments section or on our Facebook page about a difficult choice you had to make.


Words in This Story

poetic justicen. a result or occurrence that seems proper because someone who has done bad things to other people is being harmed or punished

innocenceadj. the state of being not guilty of a crime or other wrong act

mourn v. to feel or show great sadness because someone has died

ancestorn. a person who was in someone's family in past times; one of the people from whom a person is descended

tenseadj. nervous and not able to rela

"The Lady, or the Tiger?" is a much-anthologized short story written by Frank R. Stockton for publication in the magazine The Century in 1882. "The Lady, or the Tiger?" has entered the English language as an allegorical expression, a shorthand indication or signifier, for a problem that is unsolvable.

Plot summary[edit]

The short story takes place in a land ruled by a semi-barbaric king. Some of the king's ideas are progressive, but others cause people to suffer. One of the king’s innovations is the use of a public trial by ordeal as an agent of poetic justice, with guilt or innocence decided by the result of chance. A person accused of a crime is brought into a public arena and must choose one of two doors.[1] Behind one door is a lady whom the king has deemed an appropriate match for the accused; behind the other is a fierce, hungry tiger. Both doors are heavily soundproofed to prevent the accused from hearing what is behind each one. If he chooses the door with the lady behind it, he is innocent and must immediately marry her, but if he chooses the door with the tiger behind it, he is deemed guilty and is immediately devoured by it.

The king learns that his daughter has a lover, a handsome and brave youth who is of lower status than the princess, and has him imprisoned to await trial. By the time that day comes, the princess has used her influence to learn the positions of the lady and the tiger behind the two doors. She has also discovered that the lady is someone whom she hates, thinking her to be a rival for the affections of the accused. When he looks to the princess for help, she discreetly indicates the door on his right, which he opens.

The outcome of this choice is not revealed. Instead, the narrator departs from the story to summarize the princess's state of mind and her thoughts about directing the accused to one fate or the other, as she will lose him to either death or marriage. She contemplates the pros and cons of each option, though notably considering the lady more. "And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door – the lady, or the tiger?"

Other works[edit]

By Stockton[edit]

Stockton later wrote "The Discourager of Hesitancy,"[2] a follow-up to "The Lady, or the Tiger?" that begins with five travelers visiting the kingdom to discover what the accused man in that story found behind the door he chose. An official tells them a second story, of a prince who had come to the kingdom to find a wife. Instead of allowing him to see any available ladies, the king had him immediately taken to guest quarters and summoned attendants to prepare him for a wedding to be held the next day. One attendant introduced himself as the Discourager of Hesitancy and explained that his job was to ensure compliance with the king's will, through the subtle threat of the large "cimeter" (scimitar) he carried.

At noon on the following day, the prince was blindfolded and brought before a priest, where a marriage ceremony was performed and he could feel and hear a lady standing next to him. Once the ceremony was complete, the blindfold was removed and he turned to find 40 ladies standing before him, one of whom was his new bride. If he did not correctly identify her, the Discourager would execute him on the spot. The prince narrowed the possibilities down to two, one lady smiling and one frowning, and made the correct choice.

The kingdom official tells the five travelers that once they figure out which lady the prince had married, he will tell them the outcome of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" The story ends with a comment that they still have not come to a decision.

By other artists[edit]

A play adaptation by Sydney Rosenfeld debuted at Wallack's Theatre in 1888 ran for seven weeks. In addition to stretching out the story as long as possible to make it a play, at the end the choice was revealed to the audience – neither a lady or tiger, but an old hag.[3]

Toyah Willcox and Robert Fripp released a recording of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" and "The Discourager of Hesitancy" with Willcox reading the stories to electric guitar accompaniment by Fripp.

"The Lady, or the Tiger?" is one of three short stories that were adapted into the musical comedyThe Apple Tree.[4]

The story was the inspiration for Raymond Smullyan's puzzle book by the same title, The Lady, or the Tiger?.[5] The first set of logic puzzles in the book had a similar scenario to the short story in which a king gives each prisoner a choice between a number of doors; behind each one was either a lady or a tiger. However, the king bases the prisoner's fate on intelligence and not luck by posting a statement on each door that can be true or false.

"The Lady, or the Tiger?" is referenced in "Ennui", a sonnet written by Sylvia Plath and published 43 years after her death. Plath's sonnet, however, speaks of an age when the choice has become no longer relevant.

Alternative rock band They Might Be Giants released the song "The Lady and the Tiger" on their 2011 album Join Us. Like the story, the song ends without a conclusion. The last line reads, "The hall remains, it still contains a pair of doors, a choice. Behind one door, a muffled roar, behind the other, a voice."

The Lady or the Tiger is a one-act play adapted from Stockton's short story and published by Lazy Bee Scripts in 2010.[6]

"The Purr-fect Crime", Season 1, Episode 19 of the U.S. television series Batman ends with a cliffhanger in which Batman is presented with two doors; one of which opens to Catwoman and the other opens to a tiger. Batman has no hint and chooses the door that has the tiger.[7]

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Stockton, F. R. (November 1882). "The Lady, or the Tiger?". The Century. 25 (1): 83–86. 
  • Pforzheimer, Walter L. (Autumn 1935). "The Lady, the Tiger and the Author". The Colophon. 1 (2): 261–270. 

External links[edit]

"The Lady, or the Tiger?" was the title story in an 1884 collection of twelve stories by Frank R. Stockton published by Scribner

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