The Lady, or the Tiger? - Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:04 A Popular Tale
  • 0:29 Story Summary
  • 2:20 Analysis
  • 2:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

'The Lady, or the Tiger?' by Frank R. Stockton is one of the most popular short stories of all time. In this lesson, we'll explore this unusual story and learn about why it is so widely read.

A Popular Tale

'The Lady, or the Tiger?' by Frank R. Stockton was first published in The Century magazine in 1882. Since then, it has been republished often and is one of the most widely read short stories of all time. Why is it so popular? That's mainly because of its unique and surprising ending. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Before we get to the ending, we should start at the beginning.

Story Summary

'The Lady, or the Tiger?' takes place in an unnamed ancient kingdom where the king has come up with a rather unique law enforcement policy. Instead of subjecting accused criminals to a boring old courtroom trial, they are instead sent into a gladiator-style arena in front of all the citizens of the kingdom. They then have to choose between two doors. Behind one is a beautiful woman selected by the king to be a good match. Behind the other is a ferocious tiger. If he chooses the woman, he is considered innocent of the crime and marries the woman on the spot. If he chooses the tiger...well, you can imagine what happens after that.

As our story opens, the king's daughter has fallen in love with a young man who is a member of the king's court but of a lower class. He's not suitable marriage material for the princess, and even attempting to romance her is a great offense to the king, so the suitor gets the lady and the tiger treatment. And since he's personally invested in this case, the king scours the kingdom to find the most ferocious tiger he can. But to even things out, he also finds the most beautiful lady in the kingdom for the other door.

Now, this puts the princess in a bit of a bind. She doesn't want to watch her beloved get ripped to shreds by a tiger, but she's not thrilled at the possibility of him marrying this beautiful woman either. Through some sneaking around and bribery, she manages to learn which door is which, but it's not clear what she plans to do with the information.

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