Frank Stockton: The Lady or the Tiger?

Another famous story. The front page in my book “The Best Short Stories of Frank Stockton” has my signature and the date 2nd September 1968 but, as I bought it because it contained the story, I must have read it somewhere else still earlier.

This is more than a story; this is a conundrum.

In the distant past there was a half-civilised, half-barbaric king. He had a peculiar system of justice. Any suspect was to appear in the arena where at the gong of a bell he had to open one of two similar doors: behind one was a hungry tiger which would pounce on him and devour him and behind another was a beautiful lady whom he would marry then and there amidst a joyous gathering. 

Now the king learns that his daughter loves a man far beneath her station. In his eyes the commoner had committed a crime. So the man had to come to the amphitheatre where his fate would be determined by the choice that he makes.

Next is what, to borrow a phrase from a TV ad.



“Every heart stopped beating, every breath was held, every eye was fixed immovably upon that man. Without the slightest hesitation, he went to the door on the right, and opened it.”


6 Responses to Frank Stockton: The Lady or the Tiger?

  1. Ganesh says:

    This is a story which I had first encountered in my Class X English textbook.

    What do you think should be the answer to the final question?

    • cgrishikesh says:

      From the door that he chose emerged the Lady. Before the bell clanged and the marriage festivities began, the other door opened by some mistake somewhere and the ravenous Tiger came running and gobbled both man and woman in front of the awe-struck crowd.

      • Ganesh says:

        I remember that the ending of the story was a subject of heated discussion in the class!

  2. Shuchi says:

    New story for me. Reality shows are good when they’re in books!

    Answer to the final question: Without doubt, the tiger. I want to add an “although…” phrase here but it’ll be a spoiler, so stopping from further comment.

  3. Shuchi says:

    I found lots of related titbits to this story from a web search. One source says that when questioned by inquisitive readers, Stockton replied: “If you decide which it was – the lady or the tiger – you find out what kind of person you are yourself.” Another says that Stockton was served ice cream carved in the shapes of a lady and a tiger. People jostled around waiting to see which one he would dig his spoon into first.

    And there’s a sequel to this tale:

  4. Have already read the story. Yes, it is a conundrum – about the fiendish possibilities of the passion of a possessive, powerful woman!The solution of both doors getting opened takes away from the interesting imagination/conjectures posed by the story!

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