Vraj PatelProfessor DettoriColi-214B-section 05December 7th, 2017 A Thousand and One Nights The Thousand and One Nights, also known as Alf Layla wa-Layla is a very well known text in Islamic Culture.
The Thousand and One Nights was evident roughly around the ninth century, and by the time it was the twelfth century, many manuscripts were found in Syria, Egypt and Iraq. According to the Longman Anthology, early manuscripts were not fully understood and led people to believe that the title only meant that there were a large number of stories but after further application, the structure and organization of the work was created. There are some theories that the source for The Thousand and One Nights is from a Persian tale called Hazar Afsana.
However, others believe the source text is an Indian narrative which had a frame story just like The Thousand and One Nights. The Thousand and One Nights is a frame story which includes a story within a story and there is interplay between them. The main story revolves around King Shahryar and Scheherazade. There are many themes present throughout this frame story and two prevalent themes which happen to be very opposite of each other are feminism and misogyny.
The power of Scheherazade is discussed as well as discrimination against women. The Thousand and One Nights has had a massive influence in many other literatures and films. The work has been translated in various languages and has been morphed in many arts and films throughout the history. The Thousand and One Nights has been written through an Islamic point of view, however, it includes various names which are likely Persian, Turkish, Indian and many more.
This makes the text very unique and shows how it is able to blend with other cultures. The Thousand and One Nights also proves the success of Islamic Culture because the text reflects that other religions were converting to Islam which marks its dominance. Themes like misogyny and feminism are observed throughout this famous frame story. These themes are on opposite spectrums and the reason there are in the same text is to show how feminism changes views of a misogynist like King Shahryar. These two themes clash throughout The Thousand and One Nights and feminism comes out as the winner in this text.
Misogyny is present throughout The Thousand and One Nights, this theme emerges when King Shahryar’s wife cheats on him with another man, “when he entered the palace, he found his wife lying in the arms of one of the kitchen boys. When he saw them, the world turned dark before his eyes…” (Pike, Hafez, Shirane, & Yu, pg 409). This event changes King Shahryar’s view on women and he starts to believe that all women are cunning and duplicitous. King Shahryar starts to commit crimes against women in the kingdom. For example, “he then swore to marry for one night only to kill the woman the next morning, in order to save him from the wickedness and cunning of women” (Pike, Hafez, Shirane, & Yu, pg 413). King Shahryar view is completely false towards women and the power of Scheherazade eventually changes this misconception he has for women.
As the story continues, King Shahryar kills several women in the kingdom and eventually, the older daughter of the Vizier, Scheherazade requests to marry Shahryar to save the remaining women of the village. Scheherazade creates this plan that she will tell a story to the king every night and not finish it to make Shahryar feel curious about the ending. This way, Scheherazade will not be killed and the king will want to know how the story. This leads to many other stories within this main text.
Stories like the “Tale of the Merchant and His Wife” also present misogynistic views. The merchant’s wife is very curious as to why he is laughing, but the merchant cannot say why otherwise he will die. He then hears a rooster say, “he should take an oak branch, push her into a room, lock the door and fall on her with a stick, beating her mercilessly…”( Pike, Hafez, Shirane, & Yu, pg 417). King Shahryar and the merchant are great examples of discrimination towards women and how graphic they are. Feminism is another theme present in The Thousand and One Nights which is directly against misogyny.
Scheherazade is a great example of this, she is very strong and does not fear the king or her death. Scheherazade is a very intelligent woman who uses the power of storytelling to change the opinions the king has on women and saves their lives, “she knew poetry by heart, had studied historical reports, and was acquainted with the sayings of men and the maxims of sages and kings”(Pike, Hafez, Shirane, & Yu, pg 414). She uses this power every night and tells stories to the king, being a true hero and protecting other women in the village. Scheherazade persuades King Shahryar and brings a change in Shahryar’s life. The violence come to an end and Scheherazade brings happiness into Shahryar’s life. These two themes discussed here are very divergent. Misogyny describes discrimination against women whereas feminism is all about power and rights women should have.
These two themes exist to show how one overcomes the other. In this case, feminism wins over misogyny because the resentment towards women is wrong. Scheherazade represents a very powerful figure and she is the main hero of this text.
Misogyny originates from what Shahryar saw when his wife cheated on him and it lead to him committing crimes against women. Scheherazade volunteers to put an end to this and it shows how feminism wins the battle. These two opposite themes are present to show how misogyny is wrong and feminism triumphs at the end when King Shahryar’s view on women changes after one thousand and one nights.In the eyes of many people, Scheherazade is considered a heroine who saved countless amount of lives. However, there are some people that disagree with those views. A great example is the very famous, Joumana Haddad. She is a Lebanese author who wrote a book called “I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Women” and a women’s rights activist who disagrees with Scheherazade and her point of view.
Joumana Haddad believes that, “a woman being a woman means for her to be, and to want to be, herself, and not anyone else’s self. And especially not the man’s self…” (Haddad, pg 99). Haddad feels that a woman must take care of herself and accept herself before she bonds with the man. She also says that, “it means that she sustains all this without worrying whether a man will approve of her, and her success, or judge her failure” (Haddad, pg 99). Haddad thinks that a woman needs a man and love but says there is a huge difference between needing and depending on a man. Joumana Haddad’s criticism is that Scheherazade’s actions make women feel inferior.
For example, ” I’ve never really liked this ‘bribing the man’ scheme. For one thing, I believe it sends women the wrong message: ‘Persuade men, give them the things you have and they want and they’ll spare you…it does not teach women resistance and rebellion, as is implied when the character of Scheherazade is discussed and analyzed.
It rather teaches them concession and negotiation over their basic rights” (Hadded, pg 141-142). Hadded is trying to say that what Scheherazade did was an agreement and gave herself up to King Shahryar to tell stories otherwise Scheherazade would also have been killed. Although Scheherazade came to an agreement with King Shahryar, some people disagree with Joumana Hadded because Scheherazade felt that the only way to save women in the kingdom was to give something to the king which was telling stories. The Thousand and One Nights is very influential to many other literatures and films. According to Wen-Chin Ouyang, “The Thousand and One Nights since Antoine Galland discovered it and translated it to French in the early eighteenth century (1704-1717). It has been an infinite source of inspiration both within and outside the cultures that produced it”.
The Arabian Nights has provided vision for many other works and analysis like the book, “I Killed Scheherazade: Confessions of an Angry Arab Women” by Joumana Hadded. Other themes in the text have been used in hollywood at many occasions, for example, “In 2000, BBC 2 broadcast in two segments a new film version of the Thousand and One Nights produced by the Warner Vision International…literature emphasized the ‘magic, mystery, and epic adventure’…
located in a genre of film-making such as Alice in Wonderland, Merlin and Gulliver, ‘Arabian Nights’…”(Ouyang, pg 2). The Thousand and One Nights has provided a very strong influence on many recent works and shows how dominant it has been since the 9th century. Thousand and One Nights also provided a basis for a novel called The Pregnant Widow. For instance, “To portray feminism as an unfinished project in twenty-first century England, The Pregnant Widow (2010) adopts a nonlinear and nonprogressive view of time, and travels back and forth between the medieval Islamic setting of The Arabian Nights…”(Bulamur, pg 1).
This novel discusses feminism and was influenced by The Thousand and One Nights and includes many references to it. The Arabian Nights has changed literature and this led to the creation of many works like Alice in Wonderland which contained similar themes as The Thousand and One Nights. The Arabian Nights contains several themes but two prevailing themes are feminism and misogyny. These two themes lie on the opposite ends of the spectrum and this frame story discusses how feminism overpowers misogyny in the end which Shahryar changes his view on women and stops committing atrocities.
Scheherazade’s character is questioned by Joumana Haddad and she believes that the right message of feminism was not taught in The Arabian Nights. The Thousand and One Nights has had a major influence in many of the works we know of and common themes have been found between various works like The Pregnant Widow, Merlin and Gulliver, and many more. Works CitedH?adda?d, Juma?nah Sallu?m. I Killed Scheherazade : Confessions of an Angry Arab Woman, Chicago, III., Lawrence Hill Books, 2011. Ouyang, Wen-Chin.
“Metamorphoses of Scheherazade in Literature and Film.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. 66, no. 3, 2003, pp. 402-418Naz Bulamur, AYSE1. “Scheherazade in the Western Palace: Martin Amis’s the Pregnant Widow. “Clio, vol 43, no.
3, summer2014, pp 367-384. “Pearson – Longman Anthology of World Literature, The, Compact Edition – David Damrosch, April Alliston, Marshall Brown, Page DuBois, Sabry Hafez, Ursula K. Heise, Djelal Kadir, David L. Pike, Sheldon Pollock, Bruce Robbins, Haruo Shirane, Jane Tylus & Pauline Yu.” Pearson Higher Education, www.pearsonhighered.com/educator/product/Longman-Anthology-of-World-Literature-The-Compact-Edition/9780321436900.