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essay

The "semi-barbaric" king of an ancient land uses a unique form of trial by ordeal for those in his realm accused of crimes significant enough to interest him. The man is placed alone in an arena before two curtain-draped doors, as hordes of the king's subjects look on from the stands. Behind one door is a woman appropriate to the accused's status and approved for him by the king; behind the other is a fierce (and nearly starved) tiger. The accused then must choose a door. If by luck (or, if one prefers, the will of heaven) he picks the door with the woman behind it, he is declared innocent and set free, but he is required to marry the woman on the spot, regardless of his wishes or his marital status. If he picks the door with the tiger behind it, the hungry beast immediately pounces upon him--his guilt thus manifest, supposedly. When the king discovers that his daughter, the princess, has taken a lover far beneath her status, the fellow is an obvious candidate for trial in the arena. On the day of his ordeal, the lover looks from the arena to the princess, who is watching in the stands, for some indication of which door to pick. Even the king doesn't know which door hides the maiden, but the princess has made it her business to find out, as her lover knew she would. She makes a slight but definite gesture to the right, which the young man follows immediately and without hesitation. As the door opens, the author interjects, "Now, the point of the story is this: Did the tiger come out of that door, or did the lady?" The author then playfully sets out for the reader the dimensions of the princess's dilemma, and that of the reader in answering the question he has posed. The reader is told that the princess knew and "hated" the waiting maiden, one of her attendants, whom she suspected of being infatuated with the princess's lover. The princess, the reader must keep in mind, is "semi-barbaric," too, or she wouldn't have come to witness the ordeal at all; and though she has shrieked when struck by the thought of her lover torn to bits before her eyes, the thought of his dancing out of the arena with his blushing bride has afflicted her more sharply, and more often. In either case, the princess knows her lover is lost to her forever. She has agonized over her decision, but by the time she arrives at the arena, she is resolute, and she makes her gesture to the right unhesitatingly. The author denies being in a position to answer his question with authority, and the story ends with the famous line, "And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door - the lady, or the tiger?"

Last Update: 2014-07-19
Subject: General
Usage Frequency: 1
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Reference: Anonymous
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