The Lady or the Tiger?

Hi everyone!

Today’s post is a little more substantial than my usual. Every once-in-a-while, I have some “deep thoughts” I like to share; I’m usually compelled to do so because I know at least one or two of you out there can relate. I’ve come to a bit of a crossroads in my life, and, it being a crossroads, you’re typically forced to make some decisions.


A little while back, my mother handed me a printout that she insisted I take home and read. She didn’t elaborate much after that, but was adamant that I look it over. It’s only three or so pages, so it doesn’t necessarily belong on a bookshelf, although I think the content is undeniably worth the binding, or a soft cover, at the very least. I expected it to be an article or a bit of self-help type advice, something to help me make sense of my life. It turned out to be a short story: “The Lady Or The Tiger?” by Frank Stockton. The story starts out like any other fairytale, depicting a kingdom in olden times, ruled over by a king. It’s certainly not a children’s story, as the king is “semi-barbaric” and his kingdom is unique in that, in lieu of a proper judicial system, there is an arena in which any person accused of a crime is given the choice between two doors. Behind one, a tiger and a horrific death, behind the other, a beautiful young woman and a wedding. (An awfully extreme kingdom, yes?) Chance dictates whether the accused receives one of the other. Things in the kingdom get a bit interesting when the king discovers his own daughter in love with one of his subjects, and immediately has him thrown into the arena to be “judged.”  The princess, obviously invested in this particular case, makes it her business to know what lies behind each door on the day of the trial. Her love looks to her for guidance, and she secretly signals him to choose the door on the right.

   “Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady?”

Apparently this tale is often used in academic settings as a teaching tool for comprehension and logic. The author leaves it entirely to the reader to decide. The princess has already lost her love, and it is up to her to then chose his fate. In the story, her mind is made, and she does not hesitate.

As the reader, you can’t but help imagine yourself in the princess’ shoes. This, of course, colors the outcome of the story. I shared and discussed the story with a friend of mine, and we both easily decided that the barbaric princess would have sent him to his immediate death. I think any woman who has ever been in love and had things not work out can relate. I oftentimes wish that the people I once cared about would simply disappear in a puff of smoke. Poof! Things would be so much easier. Admittedly, when asked about certain people in my life, I did once make big eyes and state the they had been “hit by a bus.” Funnily enough, the woman posing the question immediately understood my meaning. “Wow…that’s unfortunate.” I know, right…?

 After finishing the story, I did have to ask myself that, were I to choose, would the outcome be indicative of my feelings for the person at stake, or of my general character? One would think the natural choice would be the lady- to be the bigger person and to wish them the ever clichéd “best.” And yet, strong feelings for someone can, somehow, easily bring out the worst in us. The boss lady once told me that she could recognize how passionately she felt about someone based on how angry they occasionally made her. You might argue that if your feelings are fundamentally platonic or indifferent, a disagreement or canceled plans would leave you unruffled. In this case, the princess knowingly sending the man to the lady would be somewhat palatable. On the contrary, it’s often easier to grasp at anger when you feel a profound sense of loss, especially when it’s over something entirely out of your control and when your decisions are made for you. When discussing the story, I once joked that there should be tigers for all of them.

I recently came across a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald that somehow manages to sum up those difficult feelings: “suddenly she realized that what she was regretting was not the lost past but the lost future, not what had been but what would never be.” At the end of the day, what touched me the most in the story was the awareness on the part of the princess that she had already lost. I’ve always been a big softie, and often to my detriment. Sometimes I find myself sad or fundamentally angry about things that never had a chance to materialize. I wonder if the princess in the story felt the same way. If she did, she might have perhaps chosen differently? Who knows…



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