This is the name given to numerous narratives all compiled together under one book. The theme of the story, however, revolves around a Persian king and his newly acquired bride. The king soon finds out that his brother’s bride has been unfaithful and he is heartbroken to find out that his own wife has also been unfaithful. This leads him to conclude that all women are the same, and this triggers in him an extremely peculiar behaviour. He begins to marry brides, only virgins, only to execute them in the morning with the argument that by doing this, they will not have a chance to betray him anymore. Brides start to get scarce, however, one bride called Scheherazade, offers herself to him. On their first night, she tells him a story that does not end, and he does not execute her as wants to hear the rest of the story. She continues giving him similar stories for 1, 001 nights. It is these stories that make up the bulk of this work of literature. These stories are widely varied and they cover such topics as poems, love stories, historical tales, comedies, burlesques, and other erotic and romantic stories. This paper, therefore, will take a look at the position of women during this time, and how they are displayed in the stories. It is clear from the start of this piece of literature that women play an extremely essential role in the narratives.
One of the things that become apparent in the story is that women can be both evil and good at times. The Persian king marries a girl who betrays his love and trust; his brother’s bride commits the same crime and this leads the king to believe that women cannot be trusted. However, the character of Scheherazade is created, probably for the purpose of showing the king and the audience that women should not be put under the same category, that of being evil, devious or canning, and probably to show that men can also be bad or evil at times. There are numerous women in the tales who act evilly to show that there are bad women and good women. Examples of women who are described as evil in the book include such women as the farmer’s daughter and she-demon found in the second tale of the merchants. It is quite clear that the perception of the women in the tales is extremely different from that seen in today’s society. For example, in the narrative of the farmer who has created an understanding with the animals, it is said that the wife is mercilessly beaten until she learned to obey. This is also said to have made everyone else happy. This is a side of the society we do not see today. It is clear that during these times women were beaten as forms of discipline, and no one minded, even the parents and the women. This is notably different from the current affairs. However, there is something highly significant about the book. Though some women are evil and without morals, the authors do not attack or praise any of them for their bad or good deeds. The character of women is shown as being varied just like in any other group of people, unlike the general view the king had about women.
Women are also depicted as entertainers, as well as, teachers. In the story, Scheherazade takes up the role of a teacher, a storyteller and entertainer to her husband. Through her many tales of wickedness and goodness, one cannot help but derive moral lessons from these stories. Her tales are full of lessons on some social ills, and her taking up of this role depicts her as a heroine. She rescues her husband from the hatred he has for women and the mistrust he harbours of them. This is an essential character that the author indicates, through the example Scheherazade, which some women in the society possess. Additionally, we later come to learn that Scheherazade is well educated and that she has pursued numerous subjects from art to philosophy to science to poetry. It is alsoimplied that she came upon this education through personal love of books and self- teaching. She has, therefore, become strong-willed as a result of this education, and she does not easily relent to the pressure and authority society imposes on men.
Her strength is showed when she stands up to her father who threatens to give her the same treatment the farmer who could understand his animals gave his wife; by beating her to obedience. She says to him that ‘…. Either I shall live or I shall be a ransom for the virgin daughters of Moslems and the cause of their deliverance….’ (Burton 15). Her answer towards her father’s threats show how she was determined to go by her own rules and not according to the male expectations of her. This role she played can be said to have gone against the expectations of most Islamic communities, which to-date expect women to remain submissive and obedient to their male counterparts. This can be an essential lesson for such women that they are allowed to think and make decisions by themselves without necessarily having to rely on their men.
Scheherazade’s cause can be said to have been feminist in this case. However, what is striking is that the tales she gives her husband are void of these feminist motivations as onewould expect. She, for example, gives stories of a wife who was unfaithful and evil. She further tells stories of women who engaged in magic to put men under their spells, like the woman who manipulates the two kings to have sex with her because she threatens to awake the genie, and women who participate in power- plays governed by sex. One might think her foolish for further pointing to her husband the way women cannot be trusted, and knowing that she is in a position to be executed. This, however, is not the case. She does this because she has confidence that through her truthfulness, charisma and wisdom she can sooth her husband’s anger and mistrust of women. She chooses to use words and wisdom to influence her husband’s thoughts on women, other than using her sexual appeal like most women would. One might conclude that this is an essential role that all women should undertake in the society, that of using knowledge and wisdom to make a point.
Through her many narratives, Scheherazade shows representations of women who rely on their vast knowledge stores to solve problems and do not rely on their sexual appeal to get what they want. She also provides a wide variety of tales that depict women who are unfaithful, traitorous, and evil just like the stereotypical women displayed at the beginning of the book. Additionally, there are also women who are shown not to be that good, but capable of summoning their wits when the need occurs, hence, proving themselves to be more than sex objects.
Women are also displayed as powerful at some point in the book. The temptress who forced the two kings to have sex with her, under the threat that if they did not concede to her requests she would awake the jinni is shown as a wicked and powerful woman. Power in this character is displayed in the form of rings. It is said that from each man she sleeps with, she acquires a ring and keeps it as a sign of female power. She uses these rings to show the many victories she has had over men, and the rings increase with time. This presentation of power can be used to mean many things, for example, it can be used to indicate the wickedness of women and weakness of men. It can also be used to present the many ways through which women can subdue or have power and authority over men.
These are just a few examples of how women are shown and represented in the stories. Women are shown as wicked, some are shown as good, and others are shown as powerful and authoritative through men. What becomes apparent in this whole piece of literature, however, is that the generalization of women by the Persian king was misplaced, as Scheherazade has given numerous instances in which women are shown as different and varied in character.
Burton, Richard. A Plain and Literal Translation of the Arabian Nights Entertainments (10 Vols.) London: Benares stoke Newington,1885. Print
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