In Frank Stockton's "The Lady, or the Tiger?" a half-barbaric king conceived a way of exercising justice on offenders against his rule. He placed his suspects in an arena and had him choose to open one of either of two doors that would open into the arena. Behind one of the identical doors lurked a ferocious tiger that would leap out and devour the accused. But behind the other door awaited a lovely maid who would, come forth and be married at once. All of this was popular among the audience, and even their thinking members could not deny that it was a fair test. And, unless someone were to find out what laid behind the doors. The public experienced pleasing suspense and an immediate resolution. Best of all, everyone knew that the accused person chose his own ending. Now it happened that a handsome young courtier dared to love the king’s daughter, who was lovely, yet just as barbaric as her father. The man, however, though of the court, was of low station. And his temerity was therefore an offense against decorum and the king. Such a thing had never happened in the kingdom before. So, the king put the courtier in the arena to allow fate to decide his punishment or reward, but the “hot-blooded, semi-barbaric princess” finds out which door has what behind it, and signals to the courtier what door to open. The question Frank Stockton asks the reader is, “Which came out of the opened door, --the lady, or the tiger?” But it, without a doubt, was the tiger.
If, the princess directed her courtier to the lady, she would suffer every time she saw him and the lady together. She would not be able to, with all her fervor, stand watching her courtier with another lady. She would have an active reminder of what she had lost that would torture her constantly. However, if she directed him to the tiger, her pain could end quickly, never having to see him again. Instead of a living reminder of her loss, there would only be a memory that would fade over time. Which would make sense given her nature, and tendency for control. If she allows him to live and be with the lady she will have no control over the courtier’s life. But, if she allows him to be eaten by the tiger, she will have had control over him up until his last breath.
Secondly, it is constantly mentioned that the princess is “passionate” and “semi-barbaric” like her father. If she is partially barbaric, watching the death of her lover would not faze her as it might faze others, for she has already been habituated to blood and gore. In addition, if she were like her father in the way of wanting to be fair and just, it would make it more likely that she would pick the tiger; after all, her lover is guilty of the crime described. To elaborate on this point, consider this: If the princess truly loved the man convicted, why did she have such a difficult dilemma over the lady and the tiger? If her love was true, it should have trumped all else. The moral dilemma shows that her love was not as strong as we could imagine. Therefore, she would be more likely to choose the tiger to support the moral beliefs she shares with her father.
Finally, even Stockton makes his own hints