The Lady, or the Tiger by Frank R. Stockton
In The Lady or the Tiger? by Frank R. Stockton we have the theme of control, powerlessness, class, uncertainty, love, jealousy, compassion and acceptance. Narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Stockton may be exploring the theme of control. The king appears to have complete control over his kingdom and its subjects. He dictates law and punishment in such a manner that it amuses him. The two doors in the amphitheater being an example. It is as though the king likes to deliver justice as he sees fit even if it may be totally illogical to others. Absolutely every man in the kingdom who may have committed a crime is powerless to the direction their life may take with only two extreme options being available to the individual. Either they are killed by a tiger or they are forced to marry a lady. This may be important as the king appears to disregard the rights of the wives of the men should they be already married. Which may leave some readers to suggest that within the kingdom there is a hierarchy in whereby women are at the bottom end of the scale. That being they do not have a voice.
It is also clear to the reader that the princess is very much in love with her lover. Though the fact he is of a lower class than the princess is something that is scorned upon by the king. This too may be important as the king may not only be discriminating towards wives or women but he may also have an issue when it comes to an individual’s social class. With the king believing that the princess’s lover is not a suitable suitor for the princess. It is also noticeable that the king does not consider himself to be unfair or selfish when it comes to how he dispenses justice. In his eyes he is giving an individual an opportunity for happiness should they be fortunate enough to open the right door in the amphitheater. If anything the king’s subjects live under a monarchy or autocracy rather than a democracy. They are subject to the whims of the king who may or may not be reliable and who in turn has nobody to question his judgement. It is also possible that the king’s actions are something that he does for pleasure rather than to be fair. Judging a person’s innocence by way of a game of chance is something that lends itself to uncertainty.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The tiger may symbolise death for that is what is assured should an individual have the misfortune to open the door where the tiger is. Similarly the lady behind the other door at least in the king’s eyes symbolises happiness. Though it is noticeable that the lady herself has no say in the fact that she is to be married. Something which would again suggest that the king treats women as inferior to men. The fact that there is no mention of women being criminals in the story is also interesting as Stockton may be suggesting that the king may consider that intellectually women may not have the abilities required to commit a crime. It may also suggest that the role of the female was to be housebound and as such they would have (in the king’s eyes) no opportunity to commit a crime.
The end of the story is also interesting as the reader never knows what has happened the princess’s lover. If she has been driven by jealousy she will have directed her lover to the door where the tiger is. However if she has the ability to be compassionate she will have led her lover to the door with the lady behind it. In reality Stockton is leaving the reader to wonder as to how the princess is being driven. Is she allowing her emotions to take control and through jealousy end her lover’s life or is she being more accepting and allowing for her lover to live his life with another woman. If anything Stockton may be asking the reader is the princess driven by her heart (jealously) or her head (compassion and acceptance). If the princess truly loves her lover she will have safely guided him to the right door. Knowing that she has saved his life and that he might find happiness. However by doing so the princess has to have the ability to let go of her lover. To give him up to another woman. Something that may be difficult for her to do. Though morally it would be the right thing to do. However morals can be difficult to adhere to when it comes to affairs of the heart and jealousy can be an overpowering emotion.