The Lady or the Tiger Themes

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
'The Lady, or the Tiger?' is a classic of the short story genre. In this lesson, we explore some of its themes including consequence of action, limits of love, randomness of life, and human assumption.

The Lady, or the Tiger?

In Frank R. Stockton's The Lady, or the Tiger?, the reader is left guessing the fate of the condemned protagonist as he opens the door directed to him by his unobtainable love, the princess. Behind one door is certain doom at the jaws of a fierce tiger, while the other offers instant marriage to a beautiful woman of his standing. Through which door does the princess lead him? Despite being a relatively quick read, this story has plenty of themes. Among the most important of these are: actions have consequences, limits of love, life is random, and that our own assumptions can color how we read a story.

Actions Have Consequences

The most notable theme in The Lady, or the Tiger? is that actions have consequences. After all, it is the action of the princess to decide if her love is killed before her eyes or if he spends the rest of his life married to another woman. Such a question offers quite a bit of room for expansion; does the princess want to spare them both from his death, or would she rather watch him potentially fall in love with another woman? At the same time, there are also questions to be answered from the man's perspective. The reader does not learn if the man chooses the door indicated by the princess. Perhaps he chooses opposite the door that the princess indicates to him due to his mistrust of her guidance. No matter the outcome, it is clear that the action taken will have very real consequences for all involved.

Limits of Love

Additionally, the story examines the limits of love. It is clear from the story that the condemned man and the princess love each other greatly. However, is that love enough to conquer jealousy? Could it conquer the princess' resentment towards a woman she views as lesser taking the man she loves? At the same time, questions again exist for the condemned. Does he imagine that by sacrificing his life he can die knowing that the couple is still in love? All of these questions are left unanswered and up to the reader.

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