Literary Elements in "The Lady or the Tiger" by Frank Stockton
By Trent Lorcher
Literary elements in "The Lady or the Tiger" abound. Review them. Teach them. Worship them.
Discussion and Teaching Ideas
Use these brief descriptions of literary elements in "The Lady or the Tiger" to prep for class discussion.
Plot - A semibarbaric king discovers his daughter is having an unlawful affair with a male suitor. The male suitor is soon arrested and forced to go to trial, a trial that consists of an arena with two doors. Behind one door is a tiger, set to maul the unlucky criminal; behind the other is a beautiful bride, set to euphimistically maul the lucky criminal. The princess, who loves the young criminal, knows behind which door awaits the tiger, points to the right, indicating which door the young man should choose.
Setting - The story takes place a long time ago in a kingdom far, far away.
Characterization - The king is semibarbaric. The young man is handsome. They are both stereotypes. The princess, on the other hand, is developed more deeply. We know she loves the prince. We know she has inherited some of her father's semibarbaric qualities. We know she is jealous of the bride to be, if chosen. We do not, however, know which door she has chosen for her lover.
Conflict - A person v. person conflict exists between the king and his daughter and the king and the young man. An individual v. society conflict exists between the two young lovers and the rules of the kingdom. The central conflict in the story is an internal conflict within the princess as she struggles between watching her lover in the arms of another or watching her lover get devoured by a tiger.
Resolution - The story has no resolution. It is up to the reader to determine whether or not the young man lives or dies.
Theme - Stockton's short story comments on the confusing nature of love and the subjective notion of civilization and barbarity. There is also an element of Determinism vs. Free Will and whether or not, if left to their own desires, humans make the right decision.
Suspense - Suspense is created through the use of foreshadowing, dangerous action, and pacing. Stockton foreshadows the coming unhappiness of the princess (although he doesn't provide a definitive answer to the specific choice that causes that unhappiness). The dangerous action is provided by the tiger. The ultimate creation of suspense is done by the story's pacing. It is so well done, in fact, I still don't know what the young man chose.
Irony - The ironic structure of the story--it has no end, for example--highlights the irony present in the story: (1) the princess and not the criminal is the story's true loser; (2) the king, despite the outward appearance of sophistication is, at heart, a cruel semibarbarian; (3) the princess deliberates for days on whether or not to save her lover
Point of View - Do not confuse the author with the narrator. The narrator is third person omniscient and knows the fate of the young man. The author does not.