From one perspective, the public arena symbolizes broad aspects of the human condition: we live in a world full of choices, but we are uncertain as to what choices lead to what consequences, just as the young man faces a stark choice between life and death, though which door in the arena holds which is a mystery to him. And, in the arena as in some visions of life, people blunder through their choices randomly for the most part, and the consequences of their choices have little or nothing to do with their just deserts.
However, the young man finds himself in a unique situation: he is in love with the princess, and she loves him. Moreover, she has the unprecedented power to help him navigate with certainty the choices before him, for she knows where the lion is, and where the lady. Her love for the young man motivated the princess to acquire this knowledge—but her love also complicates the decision before her. Can she live with herself if her direction leads the young man to death? And, conversely, can she live with herself if the young man is not part of her life but another woman’s? The narrator suggests that all authentically passionate love emerges from a barbaric element in human nature, which perhaps explains why the princess’s love for the young man could plausibly lead her to sacrifice him to the tiger.
Indeed, in a cruel double bind, it is precisely because the young man loves the princess and she him that he trusts her—but the princess’s love is so strong as to make her, in a sense, untrustworthy. Like the reader at the ambiguous end of the story, the young man is in a position to judge the princess’s motives when she motions him to the door on the right, and in his love for her he trusts her completely, opening the door she would have him open. But the question arises: does the young man know the princess well enough to be justified in trusting her? And, more eerily, can anybody ever know another well enough to trust them with certainty? We as readers of the story tend to assume, for example, that the young man would prefer to be married than cruelly ripped to shreds by a tiger—but do we know him well enough to make this assumption? Perhaps he, like the princess, could not live without his love, and would rather the tiger than the lady himself. Uncertainty reigns over all decisions and judgments in the story, and trust is paradoxically both generated and dissolved by love.
Uncertainty, Love, and Trust ThemeTracker
Uncertainty, Love, and Trust Quotes in The Lady or the Tiger?
Had it not been for the moiety of barbarism in her nature it is probable that the lady would not have been there, but her intense and fervid soul would not allow her to be absent on an occasion in which she was so terribly interested.
She knew in which of the two rooms, that lay behind those doors, stood the cage of the tiger, with its open front, and in which waited the lady… Gold, and the power of a woman’s will, had brought the secret to the princess.
The only hope for the youth in which there was any element of certainty was based upon the success of the princess in discovering this mystery; and the moment he looked upon her, he saw she had succeeded, as in his soul he knew she would succeed.
Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady?
The more we reflect upon this question, the harder it is to answer. It involves a study of the human heart which leads us through devious mazes of passion, out of which it is difficult to find our way.