Friday, May 15, 2015

"The Lady or the Tiger" and "The Necklace" revisited

I was recently asked if I could help a teacher with two short stories: could I make them into an easier-to-understand version for non-English-speaking students? Certainly! Please choose once again, the Lady or the Tiger, and decide whether or not "The Necklace" is worth the price.

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“The Lady or the Tiger?”

Once upon a time, there lived a king who ruled a large city-state. He had a strong sense of justice and fairness on his terms. His kingdom knew a great amount of prosperity and success, and his subjects were loyal to him. They worked hard, enjoyed their lives, and believed that they were the luckiest people in the world.

Except for those found guilty of a serious crime—and there were laws. There was a system of justice especially designed by the king that was both violent and effective. No one wanted to risk the form of punishment. The system of choice was both outrageous and very convincing. The person charged with a crime would decide themselves whether or not they would live happily after or die an immediate and painful death. There was no alternative.

The king had built a large stadium where all of his subjects could gather and watch below. The inside of the stadium had large walls: an arena (a small circle or square space) with two large wooden doors at one end. Each had a small chamber room that contained one object. Behind one door was a fierce and vicious tiger. And behind the other door was a handsome young man or a beautiful young woman. The door on the left or the door on the right would be opened by the person charged with a crime. 

Depending on what door they chose--that would be the answer. They would immediately be brought to a celebration to marry this person--or a tiger that would immediately tear them to pieces.

So a young man was now on trial for his life. He had dared to romance the king’s daughter, and she did love him dearly. But she had seen him with another woman—and she reported to her father that he had committed a serious crime. He was then put into the arena. He had done nothing wrong except a great risk in giving his love to the princess: the king’s daughter.

When the young man entered, he looked up at the seats and saw the princess. Only she knew which door was the right choice for him—and she carefully placed her right hand to her chin. He walked forward and opened that door.

Now, remember: she loved this man, but he had also deeply hurt her. But she did not want to lose him to another woman. But she did not want to see him torn to pieces either. She had grown up with this custom of punishment, and so had he. The choice was hers: the screams of the crowd’s celebrations or the screams of his agony and death. She knew that her father, the king, had established this form of justice. And as his only child, she would be expected to marry someone who would continue it.

The question for you to answer: in your view, which choice did she make for him? The Lady or the Tiger? Please explain why and how you came to that conclusion? Do you think the answer she chose was fair for herself? How about for her lover?
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“The Necklace”
Her name was Marie, and she was attractive and popular. But she had married a man who was just a clerk in a government office. He made a good salary that he gave to her each month, but not enough for what she wanted and desired.
She dreamed of the style and fashion of the rich, and he worked hard. They had a simple, modest life. He loved her, and denied nothing that she wished if it were possible. She wanted a home with servants, fine dishes, and crystal glasses: to live in a mansion—but it was far beyond their means, and only a dream. Then he brought her a surprise: an invitation to a fancy state dinner. To his confusion, she burst out crying: “No. We can’t go. I have nothing new to wear!” He replied, “But you have good clothes. You just bought a new dress last month.” Her answer: “I have nothing to decorate myself! Nothing special to add to it.” He thought carefully and then suggested, “Borrow some of your friend’s jewelry. You always admire it, and she is very generous.”
She spent her time searching for the perfect item at her friend’s home. Frustrated, she looked at one piece after another. “Have you nothing else?” she asked.  And then she saw a diamond necklace with a single large stone. “Could I borrow this?” she begged. “Of course,” answered the friend. “Help yourself.”
Marie was a sensation. All the men asked to dance with her, and her husband waited patiently for hours, finally falling asleep in a large chair. At last, it was time to go home. Marie was exhausted, but wanted one more look in the mirror. But wait! The diamond necklace—it was gone! Somehow, it had slipped off. Her husband was speechless. Finally, he said, “We will go to a jewelry store tomorrow and see if we can find a replacement. Ask your friend for a week’s delay—tell her it needs a small repair.” They did find an identical one: for $35,000! They were shocked: he barely made $500 a month, and they only had $2000 in savings. But they made an agreement. He could borrow the rest from friends and also finance it. The friend casually accepted the jewelry case from Marie and said nothing except “Glad you finally got your chance for fun.”
Marie and her husband were overcome by effort to pay the debt. The interest rate alone was a heavy burden, but it had to be done. She took jobs as a laundress, a cook, a maid, and a cleaning woman. He took on extra work as an accountant, and also spent nights copying letters by hand, and they saved whatever they could manage. She fought with everyone at the market. He repeatedly risked his credit. This went on for 10 years. And finally, it was all paid off.
She was no longer beautiful—her fingernails were hard like stone, her voice harsh and rough, and her face and skin dry and lacking care. He was a worn-out, beaten, older man now, with shoulders that bent like he carried something on them. All the effort of paying off the necklace had aged them beyond their years. Then one day, she allowed herself to go for a walk in the park along the fancy stores and shops. And there…she saw…her friend! She hesitated to approach her, but finally, she found the courage. The friend was puzzled at first by the old woman’s introduction, and then she realized who it was. “My dear Marie, what on earth happened to you? It was like you vanished years ago! No messages, no letters! Where have you been?” Marie stood proudly and said, “I have had a hard life since then. And it is all because of you!” Her friend said, “What do you mean? What did I do to you?”
Marie said, “Do you remember lending me a necklace for a fancy dinner I was attending? A large diamond in the middle? We lost the original, and we worked like animals for years to pay it back. The cost was frightful. And I look like this now! It is all your fault!” Her friend said in amazement, “My fault? But you returned it! What do you mean?” Marie answered, “Yes! You did not even know the difference? All these years to replace it—a real diamond necklace--and we succeeded! I am proud we did it! It took every bit of all the money we made, but we paid it back. You are lucky we put so much effort into it. We made sure you got back your precious necklace!” And she smiled with satisfaction.
Her friend stared at her. “Oh, my poor dear. What do you mean? Why did you not say something? Didn’t you know? Why didn’t you ask? I never thought twice of it. That necklace was made of glass—it was imitation! At most, it was worth $50!”
Question for your essay: was it right that Marie and her husband made the decisions to replace the necklace and not tell the friend? Did Marie get what she wanted in life? Did her husband? Was it worth the effort? Did she learn her lesson? How and why or why not?

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