The Discourager of Hesitancy: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

A riddle for a riddle. That's the name of the game for author Frank Stockton in his sequel story, ''The Discourager of Hesitancy.'' In this lesson, we examine the story and analyze what it's all about.

A Mystery for a Mystery

You might imagine that, in a sequel, the author would answer the questions he posed in the first of the series. In the case of the story at the center of this lesson, that's (unfortunately) not the case. It is, however, another interesting take on the ''what's behind door number 1'' scenario.

In ''The Discourager of Hesitancy,'' author Frank Stockton follows up his popular short story ''The Lady, or the Tiger?'' by answering one mystery with another. A group who've come to inquire about the outcome of the first mystery (whether their countryman chose the door with the lady or the one with the tiger) get involved in a mysterious riddle of their own (which bride was chosen). Let's explore the story.

Summary of ''The Discourager of Hesitancy''

This short story opens with an entourage from another country who have called upon the ''semi-barbaric king'' to get to the bottom of a great mystery: did their fellow countryman in the arena choose the door with the beautiful woman or the door with the ruthless tiger? The traveler has not returned, and the men are curious.

The high officer, a worthy host, who welcomes the group in and provides refreshments to the travelers, decides to tell them a story rather than answer their question outright. Here is the story he tells.

Courting a Bride

Not long ago, the officer says, a prince from a distant land arrived in the country to visit the king, hoping to take a wife from one of the ''beautiful women about his court.'' The king, made uneasy by the demand, relents and tells the prince he will be married at noon the next day. He sets about to provide the prince everything necessary for a wedding day: ''Here came to him tailors, hatters, jewellers, and every one who was needed to fit him out in grand attire for the wedding.''

The prince, however, is confused. He hasn't been allowed to see the women, let alone choose which one he wants to be his bride. As he's considering these, a new attendant shows up and introduces himself as the Discourager of Hesitancy. He carries a large cimeter (or knife) and announces his role: ''I am appointed to attend him closely, that, should he think of pausing in the path of obedience to the royal will, he may look at me, and proceed.''

The Ceremony

The next morning, the ceremony takes place but, again, in an odd fashion. The prince's face is covered by a silk scarf, and the ceremony is conducted with the only identification of his bride being the touch of her hand: ''...so small, so soft, so delicately fashioned, and so delightful to the touch, that a thrill went through his being.''

As the scarf is removed, the prince discovers his new bride has disappeared. He is presented with an assembly of 40 women, all dressed similarly. The king tells the prince to pick out the woman he just married. The only difference the prince notes in the women's appearance is one who gently smiles at him and another who slightly frowns.

The king is losing his patience with the prince. And, the prince questions whether his new bride would smile at seeing him or frown at him not being able to identify her.

Make Your Move

Just then, the king threatens that if the prince does not choose quickly, his new bride will become a widow thanks to the presence of the Discourager of Hesitancy.

The prince decides quickly, and chooses one of the two women. The king congratulates him for choosing correctly.

But, for the travelers (and us readers), the question is: which woman did the prince choose? The officer promises to tell the travelers the outcome of the lady or the tiger when they can figure out which bride the prince has taken. The story tells us, ''At the latest accounts the five strangers had not yet decided.''

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