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Character Analysis in The Lady, or the Tiger?

The King: The king is a man of fervor and insatiable will. A “semi-barbaric” man, he has designed a court of chance for the criminals of his kingdom. When he learns of his daughter’s love affair with a lowly cortier, he puts the courtier in the arena. Behind one door is the most suitable marriage candidate in the land. Behind the other is the most fearsome tiger the king could find.

The Princess: The princess is in love with the courtier, and the couple is happy together. However, her father is furious when he learns of the scandalous affair and throws the courtier into prison, and eventually, the arena. The princess, a woman of immense resources and determination, takes it upon herself to learn which door holds the tiger and which holds the lady. However, this knowledge produces a great deal of tension for the princess. She has godlike control over the fate of her lover. Because she knows that she will never see him again no matter which door she leads him to, the choice becomes much more complicated. Either she leads him to the tiger, where he will be devoured almost instantly, or she leads him to the lady, a woman who the princess believes has flirted with the courtier and whom the princess despises. The third act of the story centers around the princess’s struggle with this dilemma, and the story ends without her decision being made clear to the reader.

The Lady: The lady, whose name and identity are unrevealed, is the woman with whom the courtier appears to be having an affair. Should the courtier open the correct door in the arena, this is the woman he shall be met with and married to. She is beautiful and has been chosen by the king’s men to be a perfect bride for the courtier. However, the princess believes her to be a competitor for the courtier’s love, as she’s seen them talking together in the past.

The Lover: The lover is a man who, although of lower status than the princess, is “handsome and brave to a degree unsurpassed in all this kingdom.” He is thrown into the arena for his affair with the princess. He trusts that the princess will discover which door holds which fate, and follows her directions blindly at the trial. His fate is left unresolved at the end of the story.

Character Analysis Examples in The Lady, or the Tiger?:

The Lady, or the Tiger?

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"Would it not be better for him to die at once, and go to wait for her in the blessed regions of semi-barbaric futurity?..."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

In any other trial, the prisoner must make a choice and live with the consequences, despite having no way of weighing the options beforehand. The princess adds depth to this decision by the fact of her knowledge. She has the power to examine the options closely, meaning that she’s the only one who must live with the consequences.

"She had lost him, but who should have him?..."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

The princess recognizes the fact that she and her lover are forever separated. Instead of being upset by this and taking time to mourn her loss, she begins to weigh her options. The princess seems unable to decide the proper fate: sending him to his death or sending him to his bride.

"He understood her nature, and his soul was assured that she would never rest until she had made plain to herself this thing..."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

The princess will do whatever it takes to get what she wants, even if that means betraying her father, the king. This poses the central question of the story: Which fate does she want for her lover? Here, Stockton characterizes the princess as cutthroat and enigmatic.

"intensity of the savage blood..."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

The “savage blood” of her ancestors refers to the princess’s intense emotions regarding the titular lady behind the door. This emotion turns her blind with rage, making her motivations and actions unpredictable. This unpredictability is underscored at the end of the story by Stockton’s irresolute ending.

"terribly interested..."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

This passage calls the princess’s motivations into question. One would assume that she is there to support her lover. But it could also refer to her responsibility in the decision making process. As the only audience member who knows the content of each door, she has more of a “terrible interest” than anyone.

"No matter how the affair turned out, the youth would be disposed of, and the king would take an aesthetic pleasure in watching the course of events..."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

The king has created a fool-proof plan for himself. No matter what happens, the lover will not be marrying the princess. If he picks the tiger, the lover dies and the king gets a glorious show of violence and death. However, if the lover picks the lady, the king gets to watch as his daughter’s dalliance is ended by the marriage. Presumably, his barbarian side would prefer the bloodier option, but either will do.

"Among his courtiers was a young man of that fineness of blood and lowness of station common to the conventional heroes of romance who love royal maidens...."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

The introduction of the lover is where the story begins to take on a fantastical tone. The archetypal characters were always implicit, hidden beneath a thinly veiled historical realism, but now the Evil King, the Jealous Princess, and the Prince Charming really come into the spotlight in their recognizable forms.

"he was subject to no guidance or influence but that of the aforementioned impartial and incorruptible chance..."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

Because the king designed the entire system to rely on the choice of the man on trial, the eventual involvement of the princess complicates matters. Despite the king’s vengefulness and his oversimplification of justice, he is still a fair ruler. By leaving the verdict up to chance, there is no implicit bias. However, as soon as the princess discovers which door holds which fate, the system becomes biased and unfair.

" king's arena..."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

The king created the arena for two purposes. The first purpose is to simplify the justice system. The arena and its doors make criminal trials simple: the man on trial chooses his own punishment, however blind the choice. The second purpose is to allow the king to connect with his barbarian half, which desires entertainment.

"arena..."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

Although not a human character in the story, the arena plays just as crucial a role. A creation of the king’s modeled after the Roman Colosseum, the arena is used to judge the criminals of the kingdom. In the center of the arena there are two doors. Behind one, a ferocious tiger waits to maul the man on trial. Behind the other, a suitable bride sits. If the criminal opens the door with the bride, he will immediately be married to her The arena serves as a physical representation of the theme of consequence and choice. No matter the decision, there are grave and irreversible consequences. It also embodies the king’s simplification of justice, for underlying each punishment is random chance.

"half of him which was barbaric..."   (The Lady, or the Tiger?)

The duality of the king is reflective of the duality of the punishments at the arena. There is the barbaric and violent fate: death at the hands, or paws, of the tiger. However, there is also the more civilized fate: marriage to a suitable bride. This struggle between the refined and the cruel is a constant in the kingdom and a common theme of the story.

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