In fairy tales, the princess invariably falls for the prince with the purest heart. However, in James Thurber’s short story “The Princess and the Tin Box,” that idealized notion is tossed aside for a more mercenary choice. Thurber’s cartoons, essays and stories were humorous, familiar and frequently ironic. His writing often had scenes that took readers away from the obvious, anticipated course. "The Princess and the Tin Box" is an example of his use of situational irony.
In “The Princess and the Tin Box,” a spoiled royal daughter selects her favorite gift among those brought by princely suitors. Four wealthy princes bring her rich, exotic presents, while one poor prince can only afford to give her a small tin box filled with ordinary stones. The princess seems thrilled with this offering because, in her experience, it is unique. However, when it comes time to choose, she favors a box covered in platinum and sapphires. The princess reasons that it will provide storage space for the vast amounts of treasure she expects after her marriage.
Isn't It Ironic
The story's outcome is not what the reader expects, based on previous experience. An unsuspecting reader would assume that a traditional tale would unfold, and the princess and the humble, noble prince would wind up together. The humorous surprise ending finds the princess making a practical decision and choosing wealth.