In 9th grade, I read Frank Stockton’s short story The Lady, or the Tiger? because it was an assignment for English class. The story leaves off with a cliffhanger with two possible outcomes and whatever outcome shows a theme that is inherent in our lives.
From what I remember about the story, the princess was caught being in love with a man who sincerely loves her. However, he has no royal blood, which infuriated her father, the semi-barbaric king. He puts the man through a trial where he would have to choose one of two doors in front of him. One of the doors holds a beautiful lady in which he would have to marry the exact moment he chooses the door, a lady that lives at the palace and the princess hates. The other holds a tiger that has been starved and is looking for a hefty meal. A large audience gathered to witness the man’s fate, the princess forced to watch from her throne above. But she knows exactly what is in which door through bribery. The man she loves turned to her and after some moments of thinking, she flickers her hand to a direction, signalling a door. The man confidently walks up to that door but in the end, it is up to the reader to know which door he actually went into.
But of course the princess told the man to go to the door that held the lady, right? This is the man that she loves and someone she genuinely cared about. The man will be forced to marry this woman she doesn’t like and he won’t love the woman as much as he loves her. But circumstances of that situation would lead to her seeing her lover with another woman at all times. Not only would he be with woman she hates, they would both see each other all the time with the knowledge of the marriage between them. They are in love with each other and there was no doubt about that but they can’t be together because it was forbidden. They are so close to each other, yet so far. Perhaps, he may fall in love with the woman he was tied to be with because all of the private time they have together.
But even with those consequences, she will still rather see her lover everyday than see him eaten alive by a tiger, right? If she signalled for him to be eaten by the tiger, she would be stuck with the knowledge that his death was her doing. The guilt will consume her, she killed the man she loved, and perhaps will turn her into a hollowed version of herself before the trial took place. Though that may be true, the king was said to have semi-barbaric traits. Symbolically, could those traits have passed down to his daughter? Perhaps, she is selfish and she wants all of the man’s love only for her. Perhaps the tiger appealed more to the princess because it ends a cycle of life. Sure, this man is one that she loves but the thought of violence could attract her even more because of her implied barbarism. She has this man’s fate wrapped around his finger and whatever she choose, he will go to confidently because he knows her and trusts her decision, no matter what it is.
There are many themes in this story that could be applied to reality but what I would like to discuss is the theme of fate. The king in his story put this man on trial but even he doesn’t know what is in each door and he doesn’t care what this man gets because in one way or another, it is his punishment. My 9th English teacher called him a symbol of god or the universe in a way, a person who doesn’t care about our meager lives until we have done something that not only affect them but angers them. Ultimately, our fate is decided by them but our will is not. It is decided by ourselves which door we choose to go to, whether we listen to the princess we love on which door to go to or not. The man knows all about his lover’s nature and yet chooses to go into the door she instructs him to go to. He didn’t choose to be on trial but he is going to choose what door he goes into. He is choosing the way he wants the rest of his life to go, though he was put into this predicament that the universe/God/someone else had put him into. We are put into hard situations all the time by someone else but ultimately, it is in our hands the way we decide how we must deal with it. Do we ignore it? Do we push through its obstacles? Do we give up? Whatever occurs next would be our decision, whether we would want to accredit ourselves with this information or not.
(I can’t claim credit for most of the information presented; it came from the knowledge of my 9th English teacher.)