Interpretations:The Lady And The Tiger

From This Might Be A Wiki

Based on a classic story[edit]

According to the lyrics posted on this wiki, this song appears to be TMBG's take on the classic Frank R. Stockton short story, "The Lady, or the Tiger?" (Wikipedia article: The Lady, or the Tiger?) known for its unique ending. (Please read article before the following:) The song itself is basically about a conversation between the lady, who could be the accused criminal's prize and a tiger, which could be the accused's punishment. Not sure what life support has anything to do with it. User:Tvfactoryguy July 2 2011 22:56 (EST)

Another interpretation[edit]

As is obvious, the song is a conversation between the title characters of Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger?" The story famously ends with the doors unopened, and the protagonist's dilemma (to be "rewarded" with a beautiful woman or "punished" by being devoured by a hungry tiger) unresolved. The song flips this situation on its head, however, by considering the dilemma of the lady and the tiger themselves, who are prisoners in their own right - both in the physical sense, in that they've been locked up behind doors in the king's palace, and in a larger sense, in that they've both been reduced to instruments of desire and fear, which strips each of them of their own personhood. Both desire escape from their physical prison - and, in a sense, from the narrative of the story that reduces them to mere objects in someone else's tale - even, in the lady's case, to the extent of tearing down the world around them. Their escape can never come, however, because the story has ended without a proper resolution: at the end of the song they are still waiting, forever, for the choice that will set one or both of them free.

A follow-up to Tvfactoryguy's interp[edit]

"Not sure what life support has anything to do with it." Funny, I think this line gives the biggest clue to the unique POV that inspired the Johns to write the song. As you pointed out, the source story is famous for its unique ending, namely that it doesn't reveal how the story resolves (instead simply asking the reader what he/she thinks happens) and is therefore almost more a thought experiment than a true narrative. So I suspect the Johns, in their inimitably funny and dour way, wrote this from the perspective of taking the narrative literally, and imagining these characters as being trapped in some sort of limbo waiting for the story's suitor character to choose a door. It's also worth nothing that the story was written in 1882, and I wouldn't be surprised if we're supposed to take the amount of time they've been waiting literally as well. The "life support" line conjured a comically eerie image for me of some sort of apparatus that would be required to maintain them to wait for this long. Furthermore, the closing lines of the song imply that the waiting will never end, that they are forever trapped in this literary purgatory. If I'm right about this, which I am, then it's classic TMBG: odd, clever, depressing, awkward, poignant.

The hall still contains 2 doors.. A choice.[edit]

OK. I think the last interpretation hits the nail on the head pretty much and I'd like to add to that:

So in the original story, the man loses no matter what. If he gets the lady, he can't marry his true love. If he gets the tiger, he still can't and he's dead.

So the story leaves us there and now, over a hundred years later we join the lady and the tiger, waiting at the end of a story that has no ending. But the lady has a couple choices of her own. She can choose to starve to death and die, or she can use her laser-beam eyes to break out (Whether she has laser-beam eyes is inconsequential here), which would end up killing both the lady and the tiger. Since tigers don't generally talk, it could be that the tiger has manifested himself in the lady's head and represents her will to live. The tiger counters every idea she has that might kill her.

But there's a third option, which is to continue waiting for the ending, which is presumably what the hero of the original story has been done.

Now today, the hall still stands, so the lady didn't burn it down, and the tiger and the lady still both have a roar and a voice, so they haven't made their decision yet either, and the song leaves us right there, probably forever.

I see what you mean about the tiger talking possibly being in the lady's head. Especially with, again, the last few lines, "A muffled roar, a voice" -- Ok, so why would the tiger's sounds be muffled but not the lady's sounds, unless those sounds are from the lady's room's perspective? Good call!

YoungWilliam 03:38, 24 July 2011 (EDT)

There is some stuff going on here.[edit]

I guess the main thrust of the song is that, while the dilemma of the original short story is supposedly resolved, but the resolution is unknown to the narrator, in this song the dilemma is (maybe?) never actually resolved, because the protagonist suffers from the same indecision that Frank Stockton did. Or is that what's going on? I don't know, that's not what I wanted to write here anyway. Hold on:

At the end of the song there's a muffled roar and a voice. I submit that the muffled roar is the Lady's (her lust for violence has been suppressed) while the voice is the Tiger's (because he talks).

Does it matter if the Lady is imagining the Tiger talking? The song doesn't seem to me to be about whether this character from an 1882 short story is crazy or not. --Afterward 21:17, 25 July 2011 (EDT)

An exhibit hall[edit]

I support everyone above, and have an idea on the life support.

It's mentioned that they are in "The Lady and The Tiger Hall." Sounds like something in a museum. I can picture it now: first a corridor with historical background about the king, continuing with the whole story. Small scale models, pictures, music, maybe some voice overs. Then we reach the true exhibit - the Lady and the Tiger themselves. They have been carefully preserved for all these years, the entire section lifted from the arena and carried to its current setting, with life support being added in to continue their preservation.


Re: Life Support[edit]

Like Jane, I love the ideas and theories presented above, but I have my own thoughts on the meaning of "life support" in the song, so I figured I'd throw in my two bits. The life support that the lady is talking about is the story itself. By leaving it without an ending, everyone stays "alive" by more or less freezing them in a state of perpetual uncertainty. She's had enough of waiting around and decides to try ending the story herself. In other words, she's going to turn off life support. — minrice2099 (talk|contribs|shows) 15:19, 1 August 2011 (EDT)

Cribbing from Stoppard[edit]

A behind-the-scenes conversation between two characters from a classic tale who are unsatisfied with their role as literary constructs. Was this inspired by Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead?

My favorite song from the new album[edit]

I find this deconstruction of "The Lady, or the Tiger?" so fascinating for two primary reasons:

I think the most striking thing about this song is how it takes two characters who are essentially objects in the dilemma, and makes them the central characters in the story. The conflict then becomes how the arrangement is pretty positive for the Tiger (who assumes that he'll eventually get to eat, or just grow hungrier), and pretty lousy for the Lady (who either languishes in boredom or becomes the objectified wife).

I also suggest that the purpose of the laser eyes isn't typical TMBG's whimsy, nor does it suggest that the woman has gone insane (the Tiger being able to talk is surely no less ridiculous than a Lion playing guitar?). In a way, the revelation that the woman has this ability creates a dark mirror to the Princess' dilemma from the original story: the Lady can either continue her unhappy existence, where she waits for either someone to eventually open the door and be treated as a prize or just languishes in infinite boredom, OR she can use her secret destructive power to bring an end to the torturous wait, in the process also killing herself. (I think we can rule out that they are going to die of old age or starvation, as they seem stuck into infinity; they only way they're going to die is if the Lady kills them. The curse of being literary/philosophical constructs.) The crux of the Lady's dilemma is which is better, seemingly infinite misery or the unknown consequences of death?

And just like Stockton, Linnell refuses to answer the question for you, instead backing out of the story and leaving the resolution to hang forever.

One final note: I'm of the opinion that the "muffled roar" at the end is the Lady's fiery anger at being stuck in this situation, while the voice is the Lion's reasoned argument that if she kills them, neither gets what they want (freedom or a meal). Thus amusement from the fact that the fiery, passionate response is from the more enlightened desire (freedom) rather than the reasoned approach of the animalistic desire (food).

Thanks for the people who pointed out the relation to the Lady or The Tiger, I didn't know this and it really raises my appreciation of the song.

Just to add to the idea that the roar is from the lady and the voice is from the tiger, I actually made an observation that any panicked or angry lines are spoken by John Flansburgh and the more thoughtful or accepting/relaxed lines are spoken by John Linnell. Since this bit is sung by Flansburgh while the tiger is panicing "The tiger said, "Wait You'll start a fire Destroy the entire Lady and the tiger hall"

But this more relaxed and thoughtful bit is sung by Linnell "Felines and dames in flames Will hardly serve your aims Do you surmise it's wise To have laser beams emitting from your eyes?"

Then Linnell sings the relaxed and accepting lines of the Lady even though Flansburgh had sung for the Lady the previous times. Plus Flansburgh sings each word as if they were muffled roars and Linnell just sings in a normal sounding voice.


Uh, after briefly referencing "The Guitar (The Lion Sleeps Tonight)" you put "the Lion" when you were referencing what's described as a "tiger." Was this a mistake or a really interesting figurative interpretation? Paintspotinfez (talk) 20:36, 10 November 2017 (EST)

oh, the whistling[edit]

Freaking awesome track. And what about that hilarious whistly ending?! (Is it real or synthetic whistling, does anyone know?) --Tyranny Sue 11:24, 20 August 2011 (EDT)

Metaphor for masturbation[edit]

The lady and the tiger's discussion mirrors a man's inner dialogue in his sexual frustration. The man can masturbate (The Tiger) or be with his wife when she is in the mood (The Lady), but the man is simply frustrated with never knowing which way he will end up by the end of the day - hence the desire to escape with both. To have the two openly talk would bring balance to his sexuality.

good song[edit]

Ok, good song, old story explained quite simply by the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" theory. as to the comments, why oh why do TMBG fans have to be such anally retentive pompous DICKWADS!!!!, "OH I THINK IT MEANS..... WELL MY INTERPRETATION IS......... THE TWO JOHNS WROTE THIS......... NO,NO,NO, YOU FUKKIN WANKERS IT'S A FUKKIN SONG TAKEN FROM AN OLD FABLE GET A FECKING LIFE YOU PRETENTIOUS ARSEHOLES!!!! GAAAAAAHHHHHH Soldieron.

Wow, Soldieron. Perhaps if you don't like "pretentious arseholes" trying to interpret often-cryptic TMBG lyrics, you shouldn't click on the "interpretations" tab? -TheGoodDoctorWorm

Never the Destroyer[edit]

The real victim is the lady. Given away to criminals. Starving the beast gives evidence that the tiger is fine with the current situation. The female finds her way into a revolutionary moment, but her nature (and nature as literally being the Tiger) makes her choose not to destroy but to wait. Males throw females in a room, males destroy without a second thought. Females outweigh in the current populace always. A female revolution would dominate, but it will never happen. It isn't in the nature to destroy and control.

One more point...[edit]

Almost all of the previous interpretations have pointed out that the lady is a prisoner, and subject to being the prize of a "criminal" - but (according to wikipedia), in the original story: "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", and the "crime" the protagonist is accused of his loving the princess.

In other words, IF the princess directed her lover to the lady's door, the lady wins, just as the tiger wins if he is sent to the tiger. The tiger gets a meal, or the lady gets to marry a man she is (probably?) infatuated with (albeit a man who may not ever reciprocate) The reason it is a hell is because of the infinite purgatory, not because the eventual choice is lose/lose for her.

BTW, thank you everyone, for the explanations.

Sparkless Flames[edit]

When they refer to the doors being in a hall as opposed to an arena (as the ones in the short story were) I believe they were trying to reduce the amount of exposition necessary to get across their point (halls are much more common and need less explanation than arenas) so I'm going to attempt an interpretation based on the idea that the song isn't about the specific lady and tiger from the short story but instead inspired by the ritual itself as was described in the story. In the description of the ritual it does say that if the prisoner chooses the door to the lady they immediately marry regardless of whether either of them want to be wed to each other (or at all for that matter). I think the song is a metaphor for relationships in which people go through the motions though neither side truly loves the other in a romantic way.

The two characters present different arguments one might make in such a situation. In the beginning the lady is clearly unsatisfied with her current situation and feels like just being in the relationship is itself work (referring to it as a job), and so decides she should end the relationship. The tiger represents her feelings of dissatisfaction and loneliness and tells her that if she does destroy what she has then those feelings will at the very least grow. Still frustrated the lady starts talking about escaping using her laser vision, and her feelings respond telling her that if she does try to escape she'll destroy what little she has. The lion says that it will "hardly serve [her] aims", saying that leaving the relationship would be counter-productive to her happiness, and then asks if even having laser vision is wise which means she does feel like it's not called for as the only reason for leaving she has is stagnation, which should be held secondary to survival. Putting things out of order for a moment, when she says that in her dreams she's always shooting lasers from her eyes she's referring to the guilt which many have but is often just as rationally sound as laser vision, which is that they always end up destroying everything they should care about and so they can't have nice things.

The key words to this particular interpretation are said before that however, when she says she really wants to end "this hoping and expecting" which refers to both the hope that love will somehow blossom in such a relationship, and the expectation that she has that even if love does blossom, everything will still end in tears.

In the end she decides to continue waiting. However, I think the last two lines do refer to the characters they sound like they're referring to. The reason the lion is described here as "a muffled roar" is because despite how rational the lion's voice may sound, it's actually the one that's based on fear and in this instance her "voice" that she should make a change if she's not happy does make more sense, because it acknowledges her dissatisfaction which has been built up over a long time and shows no signs of changing otherwise.

--Dysfunkt December 8, 2016

Lady Lasers[edit]

Okay, it’s that 1880 short story. We’ve determined that from all these interps. But: why the hell does the lady have laser vision in this edition? We can assume it’s at least related to the story, but what if it’s a different lady and tiger than the ones from the original story? (Like how Mrs. Bluebeard is from the perspective of one of Bluebeard’s old wives, not the main character from the story.) If these “lady and tiger”s are for a different criminal than the story’s, (it can’t be after the story, because we have no idea how the criminal reacts. Maybe he kills the tiger. No idea,) then maybe it would make a little sense for the lady to have laser vision, maybe it was some genetic fluke like in X-Men. So this lady is talking through the wall to the tiger in the other room, which really confuses either the king or the criminal, because they’re hearing the voice of the woman and the roars of the tiger (which the lady can apparently understand.) The lady is pondering using her apparent laser vision to bust through the wall between them, and/or the walls surrounding them in their rooms. The cautious tiger is against this, yet still wishes to escape by his own means. He then goes on to exaggerate his boredom waiting there, and the king and criminal emerge into the “Lady and the Tiger Hall,” which is the hall where trials occur. The tiger fears the lady will destroy the hall, but the lady is insistent that laser vision is awesome and she should totally use it. In the end, it’s another cliffhanger. Did she use the laser vision and risk her life for freedom or were she and the tiger kept as slaves to the king?

-When Cheese Met Chalk March 28 2019