One Thousand and One Nights
Women as Instigators and Initiators in The Thousand and One Nights and Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy
Throughout the course of history, women have had a variety of social roles, some of which can be seen through the lens of literature written during various different eras. Using several cantos from Inferno, part of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, and the frame tale The Thousand and One Nights, this paper will examine the medieval role of women as initiators and instigators of events, and will lead to an understanding of the quintessential medieval woman: one willing to maintain the appearance of passivity while still providing for herself or the people she has grown to care for in the background. This understanding is vital to interpretations of these texts, as well as to other medieval literature; however, an understanding of women’s role in the medieval period can also enrich one’s ability to examine the roles of women in all literature and promote an understanding of the ways in which these perceptions have changed and evolved with each passing era. Thus, using this knowledge, it would also be possible to analyze the contemporary roles of women, and to understand how and why certain stereotypes and thought patterns have been perpetuated throughout history, and how they have been largely overcome in some modern societies. Additionally, the contemporary roles of women in other regions (excluding the United States and Europe) can be better understood in the context of these archaic interpretations, elements of which are still found to be in existence today.
Dante Alighieri composed his Divine Comedy in the early portion of the fourteenth century, when there were strong political divisions in his home city of Florence, stemming from a religious disagreement in which he eventually chose a side. His work has strong religious undertones, stemming from the apparent journey through the stages of the afterlife, as well as from the references to several heavenly figures. However, his work also contains several female characters, despite many of them receiving only a brief mention before the attention is shifted away from the roles they played in Dante the Pilgrim’s journey. However, women’s roles in texts are not always so limited; in tales such as The Thousand and One Nights, whose inception was likely earlier than that of the Divine Comedy, women play a crucial role in furthering the plot and driving the male characters’ actions.
Despite the fact that women initiate and continue to instigate a majority of the actions within both texts, perceptions of these female characters vary drastically. In the Divine Comedy, all of the female characters are presented as being righteous, and even holy; these women have led good lives, and for that, have been admitted into heaven, where the final stage of Dante the Pilgrim’s journey is to take place. In The Thousand and One Nights, however, a majority of the female characters are lustful, promiscuous and very easily discarded. Whereas Dante the Pilgrim never forgot the love he felt for Beatrice while she was alive, both King Shahrayar and Shahzaman showed no mercy to their wives, and put them to death regardless of the favor they had once held. These attitudes show the polarity that exists with regards to women, and thus also shows the different ways in which they can prompt events to occur, even if the causation was unintentional.
In each text, it was a female character who began the main plot arch, and who contributed significantly to the events surrounding the earliest portions of the story. A key passage for discussing the early significance of female characters in the Divine Comedy begins when Virgil explains how he was led to Dante the Pilgrim, who had found himself wandering into the Dark Wood. According to Virgil, “I was among those dead … when a lady summoned me” (Inferno 2.52-3); this lady, who we come to realize is actually Beatrice, Dante’s first love, then asked Virgil to go to Dante the Pilgrim, and to guide him through the rings of hell and to eventually bring him safely to the gates of heaven. Despite her distance from him, she attempted to provide him with as much help as she could from her place in heaven while waiting for him to reach the gates, from which point she could continue to guide him on his journey. She also shows genuine concern for him, when she expressed, “I fear he may have gone so far astray / … that I may have started to his aid too late” (Inferno 2.64-6). Regardless of the fact that she no longer had an earthly or physical presence in Dante’s life, Beatrice still shows that she has continued to care for him, and that she feared for his soul and its safety after he began wandering into the Dark Wood, a place that was described as being off the “correct” path of his life.
The early female characters in The Thousand and One Nights, however, are very different from the heavenly and loving Beatrice. The first woman we are introduced to is Shahzaman’s favorite wife, who he had left behind while he was going to visit his brother; when he secretly returned to say goodbye to her, though, her true colors were revealed. Shahzaman caught her in their bedroom, sleeping with a kitchen boy; this fact infuriated him to such a degree that it drove him to kill both the other man and his favorite wife, and to cast their bodies from the palace. After his discovery, Shahzaman ordered his convoy to leave immediately, and “The drum was struck, and they set out on their journey, while Shahzaman’s heart was on fire because of what his wife had done to him and how she had betrayed him with some cook, some kitchen boy” (Thousand and One Nights 1747). His bitterness, however, soon turned into a deep depression, which settled over him even while at his brother’s palace. This depression indirectly lead to both the introduction of the second major female character, and to the terrible changes that took place within his brother, Shahrayar; when Shahzaman witnessed his brother’s favorite wife and ten of his concubines perform sexual acts with eleven slaves in his brother’s household, he immediately felt as though his fate was not the worst of all, and that he could begin functioning once more knowing that his brother’s lot was unknowingly worse than his own. Shayrayar, in seeing the changes that occurred, demanded to know what had prompted them; it was only then that Shahzaman revealed to his brother the secret trysts between his women and the slaves. In disbelief, Shahrayar demanded to see this for himself, and his brother obliged. He took his brother to the window one morning, and “When King Shahrayar saw the spectacle of his wife and the slave-girls, he went out of his mind” (Thousand and One Nights 1750). Thus, the actions of Shahrayar’s favorite wife, along with the other ten concubines, drove him to become the heartless murderer he is throughout the next portion of the tale. Women in both the Divine Comedy and The Thousand and One Nights were the catalysts for the plot to begin, and for the male characters to behave in ways that they normally would not. In the Divine Comedy, this change was shown primarily through the appearance and actions of Virgil; he would not normally have come to guide a person who wandered into the Dark Wood, but at the request of Beatrice, he offered to assist Dante the Pilgrim. In The Thousand and One Nights, this change was channeled through Shahzaman and Shahrayar, though Shahrayar was arguably affected the most, due to the fact that he underwent the greatest shift in mentality, especially toward women.
Further into both texts, we discover female characters with good motives, who are looking to do everything in their power to help either the male characters or other women. In the second canto of Divine Comedy, we are able to learn more about the true reasons behind the sending of aid to Dante the Pilgrim, when we see that Beatrice told Virgil that, “A gracious lady sits in Heaven grieving / for what happened to the one I send you to, / and her compassion breaks Heaven’s stern decree” (Inferno 2.94-6). This “gracious lady” is often assumed, especially due to the religious motifs present in the rest of the work, to be Mary. As Guy Raffa states, “This last woman, who sets in motion the entire rescue operation, can only be Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus according to Dante’s faith” (“Three Blessed Women,” Danteworlds). Thus, it is Mary who truly sends Dante the Pilgrim his guide; without her, he plausibly could have wandered through the Dark Wood and the circles of hell forever, never able to find a way back to his correct and established path. Mary, through Saint Lucia and then through Beatrice, extends her greatest possible aid to Dante the Pilgrim, initiating his journey and beginning his slow passage into the realms of heaven. In The Thousand and One Nights, we are introduced to the character of Shahrazad, a young woman willing to attempt to change the mindset of King Shahrayar, and to end his killing of the women he marries. According to Jerome Clinton, “After Shahrayar witnesses her [his favorite wife’s] debauch, he first abandons his throne altogether, then, after his encounter with the jinn and the kidnapped bride, he returns to his throne, but transformed into a monster of injustice” (Clinton 108). Despite the many risks, she insists on marrying the King, but makes sure to tell him stories every night, leaving him curious to hear the ending. Her strategy works; each night, she tells Shahrayar a new part of a story, or even a new story entirely, and this keeps him from killing her the next morning. However, each night Shahrayar promises that “[he] will have her put to death the next morning, as I did with the others” (Thousand and One Nights 1760). While she is telling him the stories, she is also using these tales as a way to hopefully alter the mindset and behavior of the king; after hearing of his promise to “marry for one night only and kill the woman the next morning, in order to save himself from the wickedness and cunning of women” (Thousand and One Nights 1752), what she truly wanted was to survive, and to save other women from the horrible fate that resulted from becoming his bride.
Overall, women in both narratives play important roles in the male character’s lives and journeys. However, as is characteristic of the woman’s role in medieval society, they always operate under a veil of silence; their actions are neither bold nor outright, but are performed in secrecy and in the background, always cast behind the adventures of their male counterparts. As instigators and initiators, women could find some power in the medieval world; since they could not use their own selves to fulfill their desires, they could instead use the power of the men whom they influenced to express their general will and accomplish their goals. Thus, the women in these stories cast a very similar light on the female condition: despite the vast differences in their actions, they each showed that women could have some power, as long as it was not expressed outright, and that they could then use it to change the behavior of men either for the better, in the case of Virgil and Dante the Pilgrim, or for the worse, in the case of King Shahrayar.
Alighieri, Dante. Inferno. Translated by Musa, Mark. Norton Anthology of Western Literature. Edited by Puchner, Martin. Vol. 1. W.W. Norton, 2014. pp. 1600-1719.
Clinton, Jerome W. “Madness and Cure in the 1001 Nights.” Studia Islamica, no.61, 1985, pp.107-125. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1595410
Raffa, Guy P. “Three Blessed Women,” “Inferno.” DanteWorlds, 2002. http://danteworlds.laits.utexas.edu/index.html
The Thousand and One Nights. Translated by Haddawy, Hussain and Jerome W. Clinton. Norton Anthology of Western Literature. Edited by Puchner, Martin. Vol. 1. W.W. Norton, 2014. pp. 1746-1795.
Hierarchy and Honor in The Arabian Nights
Social hierarchy is a civilization’s categorization of people into ranks of political power and social influence based upon factors such as one’s occupation, wealth, and social prestige (Oxford). The Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights is famous for its series of tales primarily narrated by Scheherazade, whose insufferable husband, King Shahryar wedded and executed women each night in hopes of obtaining the honor he once lost when his primary wife had cheated on him. The Arabian Night’s plot of King Shahryar’s pursuit of honor is so meaningful because of the notation throughout history which states that social hierarchy is established by one’s social prestige; therefore by the king’s actions in obtaining his identity and honor back by executing women, he would naturally obtain a more significant hierarchy within his society.
Honor is essential for the characters in these series of tales because it is the single most priceless recognition of achievement of their morals, and prestige. Since hierarchy was an essential cultural aspect in history, and honor was needed in order to achieve hierarchy, the only normal and natural way for the characters of this story to achieve social hierarchy is through honor; which enables characters to conduct poor life-threatening actions and choices in order to obtain prestigious social hierarchy. King Shahryar’s quest for social hierarchy guided by the influence of honor motivates him to make unmoral decisions. Naturally, King Shahryar makes decisions with little to no regard to traditional ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ standards of behavior. Shahryar is clearly the upmost of hierarchy because of his prestige honor in being a King and ruler of his civilization. Nonetheless, one further way in which King Shahryar obtains hierarchy and authority over others is by his actions through wedding and murdering countless amounts of women. When King Shahryar discovers that his wife is cheating on him, he says in disgust “How could she do this deed by me? How could she work her own death?” As this quote reveals, King Shahryar is not displeased because of his wife’s unmoral act of cheating, but more offended by her dishonor to his name. When King Shahryar catches his wife with another man, he does not show any signs of remorse. Instead, he quickly states that she ‘had just arranged her death’. This is because when King Shahryar’s wife cheats on him, Shahryer losses some masculine traits such as assertiveness, strength, and power.
When the king’s masculinity is jeopardized he loses his own identity because his prestige is the only thing that defines him. When faced with the threat of losing his masculine persona, he implements his plan to wed a woman each night and kill her the next morning because he is undoubtedly unsecure about his identity and is willing to break his morals in order to achieve it back; “He also swore himself by a binding oath that whatever wife he married, he would abate her maidenhead at night and slay her next morning to make sure of his honour; (16). Slaying thousands of women gives him a sense of honor, by asserting his honor; he becomes a representational figure of strength and authority thus making him a representational figure of hierarchy over women. Theses actions to obtain hierarchy are only conducted during a time when the king’s identity was in jeopardy; therefore the authors and translator of The Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights illustrate that the actions taken by King Shahryar to defend one’s honor in obtaining hierarchy is something to be fraud upon. Scheherazade challenges the traditional pyramid of social hierarchy during the time period that One Thousand and One Nights was written by defending women’s worth.
Traditionally, men had precedence of social hierarchy over females, especially when King Shahryar was committing executions of women. In honor of all women’s worth, Scheherazade attempts and succeeds in stopping the mindless executions of women in her society by volunteering herself to be romantically involved with a murderous king. Scheherazade expressed to her family “I will never desist, O my father, nor shall this tale change my purpose. Leave such talk and tattle. I will not listen to thy words and, if thou deny me, I will marry myself to him despite the nose of thee” (Burton Chap.2). By Scheherazade’s life-risking act of forming a halt to the king’s binge of murders, she unofficially becomes ‘above’ King Shahryar on their society’s social hierarchy scale. Additionally, Scheherazade puts herself as the representational figure of all women when she states “Either I shall live or I shall be a ransom for the virgin daughters of Moslems and the cause of their deliverance from his hands and thine.” In this statement, Scheherazade puts herself in hierarchy of all women as she speaks on behalf and makes a decision for all women in her society. Additionally, the author of The Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights suggest in this statement that Scheherazade’s defense of honor and becoming of greater hierarchy can be a bad idea that puts her in a dangerous position between life and death. Although Scheherazade makes a well-intentioned decision based on her upmost morals unlike King Shahryar who unmorally obtains his honor, her decision is not any better. Scheherazade’s actions still put her safety at risk in saving the thousands of other women, which make her actions a bad decision. Although her actions and words put her in hierarchy of all of society’s wellbeing, hierarchy obtained through honor is presented as a dangerous decision, concluding that not all honorary decisions are good ones.
The Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Night’s plot is largely influenced by the contribution of Scheherazade’s and King Shahryar’s quest for honor, which subsequently puts them into a superior social hierarchal rank above the rest of society. Hierarchy through honor could prevalently be seen when King Shahryar attempts to regain honor by killing thousands of woman, subsequently becoming a figure of hierarchy over women because he becomes in control of women, their where a bouts, and well being. This notation is furthermore present when Scheherazade decides to take initiative and honor women’s worth by volunteering herself to be the king’s next wife so that he will no longer conduct an execution each night.
By conducting an action on behalf of all women in her society as well as controlling the king’s actions, Scheherazade becomes of a greater hierarchy over King Shahryar and women in their civilization. The actions that characters choose to pursue to defend their honor reveal the character’s morals: for instance, when King Shahryar kills women he reveals that he has little concern for morals. Likewise, Scheherazade reveals that she is willing to risk her life to defend morality by stopping the king’s executions. Hierarchy is known as the order of power between permanent objects and human beings; equally in this tale, hierarchy among society is most achieved through the amount of honor one consumes through various bad decisions.
Works Cited “THE ARABIAN NIGHTS’ ENTERTAINMENTS (ALF LAYLAH WA LAYLAH) STORY OF KING SHAHRYAR AND HIS BROTHER.” Trans. Richard Burton. THE ARABIAN NIGHTS, 1850. Web. 23 Mar. 2015. “Oxford Dictionaries – Dictionary, Thesaurus, & Grammar.” Oxford Dictionaries – Dictionary, Thesaurus, & Grammar. Oxford University Press, n.
Progression of Feminist Ideals in the Arabian Nights
Feminism in a general sense, is a motion promoting equality for women in all aspects of life. In the Islamic faith, feminism has a slightly different modified meaning. Islamic feminism supports the same attitude, basing it on slightly different beliefs, causing the outcome to be somewhat different. The Arabian Nights, particularly in the frame story, One Thousand and One Nights, expresses an overall message of feminism. The book leads with an arguably misogynistic viewpoint, holding a prejudice against women, so the message of feminism can be hard to grasp. Although misogyny is prevalent in the early stories, it serves a crucial role in expressing the feminist viewpoints portrayed throughout the book. Shahrazade tells many tales throughout the book which, all together, promote this feminist theme. Another tale that portrays ideals of Islamic feminism is the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Although Morgiana, a slave girl, is the heroine of the story, she is not given the credit of being identified as the protagonist of the piece. Early tales in both the frame story as well as the story of Ali Baba are told through a bit of a misogynistic lens, but the progression of the tales leads to an overall picture of the feminist ideas portrayed through the actions of both Shahrazade and Morgiana.
The Frame story, One Thousand and One Nights, is significant in expressing this feminist viewpoint of women throughout the book, although this is certainly not clear toward the beginning of the story.The frame story opens with two brothers, rulers of their respective lands, who have both been cuckolded. After Shahrayar, one of the brothers who has been cuckolded, finds out his queen has cheated on him, he says “‘take that wife of mine and put her to death’” (Arabian Nights 12), ordering the vizier to kill her. With this, he makes the decision to then marry a new wife every day, with the intention of killing her the morning after. “Shahrayar sat on his throne and ordered the vizier… to find him a wife from among the prince’s daughters.” (Arabian Nights 12) Such an absurd and unnecessary violation of respect for females clearly portrays the misogynistic sense near the beginning of the book. This will change as the book progresses and will actually play a role in the final feminist portrayal of women. Sharyar goes on with this horrific practice for some time until his vizier’s daughter Shahrazade decides to step up and at least make an attempt at stopping him. Shahrazade is said to be an “intelligent, knowledgeable, wise, and refined” individual, who has “read the books of literature, philosophy, and medicine” and “knew poetry by heart, had studied historical reports, and was acquainted with the sayings of men and the maxims of sages and kings.” (Arabian Nights 13) Although her father held a strong objection, Shahrazade thought she could be the one to stop it so she stepped in and volunteered to be the next wife. Shahrazade’s plan was genius, she would tell a story every night, leaving off just at the king’s peak of curiosity, so the king would let her live just one more day, so she could continue with her stories. The morning after the first night, Shahrazade “lapsed into silence, leaving King Shahrayar burning with curiosity to hear the rest of the story.” (Arabian Nights 19) Night after night, Shahrayar lets Shahrazade off the hook for just one more night. This is a huge element in expressing the feminist perspective of the stories. Although Shahrazade’s early stories show women in a bad light, it is only for the purpose of manipulating the king. Shahrazade shows that, even as a woman in a tough position, she is able to outsmart the powerful King Shahrayar. The fact that Shahrazade is considered a learned, intelligent individual, as well as being able to outsmart and manipulate the king, plays an important role in creating the base for an overall positive perspective on women depicted by the book.
The initial impression of the tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, suggests that Ali Baba will be the character of the greatest significance, due to his name being in the title of the story. He is credited with being associated with the forty thieves although the thieves are out to destroy his life and wealth, while Morgiana ends up saving Ali Baba by manipulating the robbers and taking matters into her own hands by creating oil jars, and then being able to make the whole situation have no greater negative consequences on their town. Morgiana is characterized as being a slave before her talents and intelligence are introduced in the piece. This is seen in Kasim having a “…clever slave girl, Morgiana” (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves 775). Unlike the male characters in the story, Morgiana is clever. This is seen in Morgiana’s plan to confuse the thieves on which doors they did and did not mark as already robbed, “Morgiana, however, saw the sign, suspected danger and marked all the other doors in the neighborhood, so that when the forty arrived they were at a loss” (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves 775). Her ability to manipulate and confuse men is seen in her being the character that ends up being the one who saves Ali Baba’s life as well as the wealth of others in the town. Morgiana is not seen as the protagonist or the hero figure of the story; Ali Baba is, although he is the one being saved, not doing the saving. Traditional Islamic values can be seen in the display of feminism in this story because, although Morgiana has her moments of being the hero, this is lost toward the end of the story, where the reward she is given is the “reward” of becoming a wife. This is seen in the mention of “…when she revealed the guest’s dagger he thanked her; the nephew married her…” (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves 780). Although she is not given the complete respect and acknowledgement for the things that she did to save the town from robbers and Ali Baba from his death, the character of Morgiana is painted in positive way, just like Shahrazade is painted in a positive way in the frame story of the Arabian Nights.
The portrayal of Shahrazade as female figure of influence, knowledge and successful delivery of stories, allows the reader to connect her presence to an overarching presence of feminism in The Arabian Nights; a theme also prevalent in the characterization of Morgiana in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves as a female figure portraying a hero. Both Shahrazade and Morgiana are not the primary figures of their tales, which supports the idea that in Islamic feminism, women are still subject to being seen as submissive, seen as second to the men they are associated with. Both Shahrazade and Morgiana manage to show the readers of their stories that although they are women, they can overcome the stereotype of needing a man to help them achieve the level of becoming heroines of some sort. Shahrazade can be seen as a heroine in her successful delivery of the frame story of the Arabian Nights due to her ability of being able to have Shahrayar keep delaying the murder of yet another woman (herself), giving her empowerment. Morgiana can also be seen as an empowered figure due to Ali Baba’s survival and the town’s ability to escape further robbery, all of which would not have been possible without her idea to mark all of the doors in the neighborhood to confuse the robbers. A major thing that Morgiana and Shahrazade have in common is their successful ability to confuse men and therefore appear more intelligent and capable of achieving what they want. Shahrazade escaped murder by Shahrayar by having him captivated by her stories and therefore keeping her alive, as well as Morgiana’s ability to think of a plan that ended up saving lives, saving the town, and resulted in her marrying rich and no longer having to be a slave. The ability for Morgiana to rise in society by showing the readers that she is just as capable of achieving success and becoming the heroine of a story, as well as Shahrazade’s ability to prolong the king Shahrayar from killing her for so long by having captivating stories, shows that both of their stories are examples of literature that reflect feminist viewpoints.
Feminism, defined previously as promoting equality between men and women, in multiple aspects of life, is seen by the character of Morgiana in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, as well as in the character of Shahrazade in the frame story of the Arabian Nights. It is apparent that both Morgiana and Shahrazade are not the protagonists of their stories due to the fact that they are women, although they are the heroines of their stories, who end up using their intelligence and their ability to think about what would be the best action to save or better the lives of others (prolonging the murder of other women in the frame story as well as saving the town and Ali Baba from murder and robbery). This is due to traditional Islamic values and the society’s ability to make men think that women should be submissive to them, reflected in the stories as women are depicted as evil for a majority of the frame story. Although both stories involve the characters of Morgiana and Shahrazade to be subjected to discrimination and prejudice just because they are females, these characters are able to overcome the stereotypes and show the readers of their stories that although they may be wives, mothers, slaves, or daughters, they are also heroes, without whom, the societies around them would not exist. This shows that pieces like the frame story of The Arabian Nights as well as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves may not seem like feminist literature at first, but through the analysis of characters like Morgiana and Shahrazade, it can be concluded that their actions do cause these works of literature to have aspects of feminism hidden in their themes.
Materialism Versus Freedom: Changes in Value from ‘Ala al-Din to Aladdin
Originally from The Story of ‘Ala al-Din and the Magic lamp in The Arabian Nights, Aladdin and the story of magic lamp have gained great popularity in the past few years due to various adaptations into films and other media. Among those adaptations, the most well-known one would be Disney’s version of Aladdin. Although employing the same story, the Disney animation is essentially different from the original narratives in The Arabian Nights, mainly in the values conveyed. In a drastic contrast to the materialism depicted in the original story of ‘Ala al-Din, the film Aladdin is centered around the freedom of finding and being oneself. In this paper, I will juxtapose elements in the book and film to illustrate this contrast in values, and I will also analyze the reasons behind the alternations in the Disney adaptation.
The contrasting values in the original story and the film is demonstrated by the differences in growth trajectories of the main character Aladdin. Based on the hero paradigm identified by Joseph Campbell, the “hero” undergoes four main phases: the call, education, journey and return. Although both ‘Ala al-Din in the book and Aladdin in the film complete this trajectory, the differences in the characters’ development reflect different values upheld by the book and the film. In the original story, Aladdin’s education consists of learning the value of the wealth and the strategies for spending it. In other words, it is mainly about how to enjoy and take the advantage of physical materials. For example, in the story, ‘Ala al-Din realizes the worth of jewelries and uses them as a present to the king, “I am speaking of what I brought in the two purses and in the belt, which you and I both took for colored glass. But now I know that I was wrong, and I tell you, mother, that they are jewels of inestimable value, fit only for the greatest king” (Haddawy, 126). The theme of materialism continues at the journey of ‘Al al-Din. His adventure is triggered by the vanishing of his materialistic wealth when the African magician steals his magic lamp and removes his magnificent palace to Africa. His endangerment is also resolved by retrieving his wealth when he kills the magician and brings his palace back. Even his romantic relationship with the princess is sustained by material wealth. He acquires the marriage through displaying his vast possessions to the king, and he is forced to separate from his beloved also due to the disappearance of his wealth.
On the contrary, the course of Aladdin’s education and journey in the film is quite the opposite of such materialistic presentations; instead, it highlights the development of Aladdin’s self-identity and freedom. In the film, Aladdin is initially presented as a thief who steals a loaf of bread. His education happens as he grows from a “stealer” into a “giver”: Aladdin gives away the loaf of bread to a little beggar at the street. His benevolence debunks materialism because it gives tribute to the sacrifice of “materials” for charity. This act of Aladdin also marks his development of self-identity as he makes this choice based on his independent morality. His initiative even influences others, in this case, Abu, to give up selfishness. As for the journey of Aladdin, he goes through both external and internal struggles to attain an image of himself. The external threat occurs when the villain J’ far discloses Aladdin’s identity as a street rat instead of a prince. At the same time, he struggles internally to speak the truth about himself to his beloved, the Princess Jasmine. Finally, those risks are resolved as he confronts his true self. Although Aladdin loses his material wealth, he eventually finds a spiritual wealth, which is his self-acceptance. Therefore, he completes his pursuit of individual freedom: he wants to be himself rather than someone else. His self-revelation also wins him the marriage with princess Jasmine who loves him not because he is a prince but because he is Aladdin. The film ends with the sultan abolishing the rules of marrying a prince with a princess and replacing it with the freedom of love. The conclusion challenges the confinement of material equality in marriage and celebrates the value of freedom in love.
Besides the development of protagonist’s education and journey, the differences in characterizations of demon in the lamp also shed light on the discrepancy in values expressed in the original story and the film. In the original text of The Arabian Nights, there are not many descriptions regarding with the demon. Demon’s characterizations are limited to an obedient slave who fulfills every wish from his master. In each appearance of the demon in the book, he anticipates orders in the same way: “What do you wish? Here I am, ready to obey you, as your slave and the slave of those who have the lamp in their hands, I and the other slaves of the lamp” (Haddawy, 135). In the book’s representation, the demon is just a tool for ‘Al al-Din to attain material wealth and no one ever cares about his feeling or spirituality.
On the other hand, the “Genie” in the Disney adaptation shows more richness and vividness in his personalities and freewill. He appears to be talkative, vibrate and solicitous. His relationship with his supposed master, Aladdin, is that of intimate friends. In this sense, the film respects the individuality of the Genie, who is depicted like a vivid person rather than a tool. Furthermore, far from a submissive slave, the Genie in the film has freewill: He communicates his wishes of freedom to Aladdin. Finally, his freedom is granted when Aladdin gives up the opportunity to retrieve his wealth. Again, the value of materials pales in comparison with the preciousness of freedom.
Besides the changes made in characters, deletions and additions of significant images in the film adaptation serve to highlight the value of freedom while concealing the materialism portrayed in the original story. In the The Story of ‘Ala al-Din and the Magic lamp,the dominant image includes the “sparkling”, for example, the jewels at the cave and the diamonds, rubies, emeralds, gold and silver decorated in ‘Ala al-Din’s fancy palace. The recurring image of the shiny jewelries offers a direct perception of extravagance. The focus on the luxuries and possessions in the original story aptly demonstrates a materialistic view of the world.
However, in the film, although Aladdin is also promised with wealth, there is no such emphasis on images like those shiny jewelries portrayed in the original text to showcase his possessions. In this sense, the materialistic value is reduced and concealed in the film adaptation. Instead, the film focuses on other images to deliver the theme of freedom. The first image is the dichotomy between “market” and “palace”. Aladdin comes from the “market”, a free and unrestrained environment in which he plays around and enjoys life. Jasmine, on the other hand, is a prince restricted in the “palace”, who desires freedom and escape from confinement. Another important image in adaptation of film is “the magical carpet”, whose flying property associates with the pursuit of freedom. In the film, there is one scene in which Aladdin and Jasmine ride the magical carpet to soar upon the sky. This flying carpet brings Jasmine out of the “palace”, her confinement, and it symbolizes an invitation she receives from Aladdin to the world of freedom. Those images and symbols in the film really convey the beauty of freedom to its audiences.
In this sense, several major changes witnessed in the adaptation of Disney film Aladdinare intended to replace the original value of materialism in the texts with the contemporary value of freedom and individualism, but why the change in values is necessary and important for the adaptation? The differences in social backgrounds and intended audiences between the original story and the film adaptation can explain this. Although The Story of ‘Ala al-Din and the Magic lampcannot be considered as Medieval but pre-modern literature, it is still estimated to be written at around seventeenth to eighteenth century. At that period signified by colonization and expansion, capitalism and desire for material wealth really prevail among both Arabs and Europeans. Therefore, the story of ‘Al al-Dinacts as an escape literature that satisfies audiences’ fantasies about extravagance and unlimited purchasing abilities. However, when Disney animation of Aladdinwas first made in 1992, the social environment had changed drastically from that of seventeenth and eighteenth century. Daniel Yankelovich identifies social values at sixties-to-nineties America in his social analysis: “More academically, Ron Inglehard referred to the new values as ‘post-materialist’ and documented their spread from the United States to other industrialized democracies. A label for new ethos that I and others prefer is ‘expressive individualism’’ (Yankelovich, 1). Therefore, it is not surprising that the 1992 Disney adaptation erases the elements of materialism but lauds the value of individual freedom. Also, as a film specifically for children, Disney animation wants to avoid instilling the impression of greediness and obsession with wealth, but aims to cultivate morality and self-identity in an entertaining and educational way.
Therefore, due to the influence of American social value and intended audiences, Disney film Aladdin conceals the elements of materialism in the original text and celebrates the core value of individual freedom. Significant changes in plots, characterizations and images in the film all serve to express this value. Although the values are different, both Aladdin and Al’ al-Din succeed in reflecting the society and eliciting resonances among audiences.
Aladdin.Dir.John Musker, Ron Clements. Walt Disney Home Entertainment, 1992. Film.
Haddawy, Husain, trans. The Arabian Nights II: Sinbad & Other Popular Stories.New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1995. Print.
Yankelovich, Daniel Middle. “How American Individualism Is Evolving.” The Public Perspective(1998): Pages 3-6. Print.
The Theme of Justice in Naguib Mahfouz’s novel, Arabian Nights and Days
The Arabian Nights, a classic collection of medieval tales, has influenced countless writers in literature creations. There are an ocean of novels, fictions and poetry that either borrow elements or derive inspiration from the stories in The Arabian Nights. The novel The Arabian Nights and Days, written by the Nobel-winning Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz, is one successful example of the works under the influence of The Arabian Nights. This novel continues the frame story in The Arabian Nights and narrates what has happened after the one thousand and one nights of storytelling by Shahrazad to the bloodthirsty sultan Shahryar. In this novel, familiar characters such as Aladdin, Sinbad, and Nur al-Din come on stage again. However, instead of mimicking the plots and styles of The Arabian Nights as in other parodies, Naguib Mahfouz gives new lives to those old characters, motifs and events, and effectively manipulates them to reflect social realities. Disguised in the ancient fantasy, The Arabian Nights and Days exposes and contemplates on the theme of justice in the Egyptian and Middle Eastern society under the dark age of colonization and corruption. Such manipulation of old stories and discussion of justice under modern context can be aptly demonstrated by Naguib Mahfouz’s depiction of the character Gamasa al-Builti and his transformations. Therefore, in this paper, I will focus on the character Gamasa and his three transformations, examine the influence of The Arabian Nights on the new story, and analyze how Naguib Mahfouz convey his observations of social justice through different representations of a character.
Gamasa is originally a chief of police subjected to a corrupt system. After being seduced by a genie called Sigam, Gamasa murders the governor of the quarter and therefore is beheaded but saved by the same genie. Then, he transforms into another man called Abdullah and works as a porter. He develops religious faith and becomes friends with the son of Sanaan, the good merchant also seduced by a genie to commit crimes. They express dissatisfaction towards government and plot a series of political assassinations in the name of a Holy War. After confessing his crimes, Gamasa the chief of police or Abdullah the porter reincarnates again into a state of nonhuman, which is called as the madman. The madman continues as a religious fanatic, killing the governor of the quarter after they are replaced one after the other. The character of the madman also reoccurs in most of the following stories as a resolution of troubles through killing. Finally, the madman is reappointed as the chief of police and renamed as Abdullah the Sane.
The episodes involving with this character, Gamasa Al-Bulti and The Porter, receive a certain degree of influence from The Arabian Nightsand borrow important elements from some of the original tales. For example, the main character Gamasa makes his first appearance at a scene of fishing. Just like the fisherman in The Story of the Fisherman and the Demon, Gamasa catches nothing but a heavy bottle and accidentally releases a genie sealed in it. The image of “genie in the bottle” and the motif of magical force in the novel are classic elements in the original stories of The Arabian Nights. However, Naguib Mahfouz develops a different plot involving with the genie. In the novel, the role of man and genie is completely reversed. In the original story of The Story of the Fisherman and the Demon, the fisherman is a manipulator of the evil genie. By using his logic and wit, the fisherman traps the genie who threatens to kill him into the bottle, and he eventually reconciles with the genie, gains wealth and lives happily ever after. The novel, on the contrary, presents the genie as a manipulator of men. It narrates how Gamasa the chief of police is seduced by the genie to trap himself into delinquency, crimes and a tragic state of nonhuman.
Another example of elements in these episodes whose precedent can be found in The Arabian Nightsis the topic of crime. The motifs of theft, murder, and bloodshed appear in many Arabian Nights stories such as The Story of the Three Apples and The Story of the Hunchback. In shaping the complicated character of Gamasa as both the chief of police and the criminal, Naguib Mahfouz derives inspiration from The Story of the Three Apples. For instance, Gamasa as the chief of police faces the same predicament as J’ far, the vizier of caliph who is responsible for investigating of a murder. As the caliph threats to hang J’ far if he could not find murderer, the governor also threats to dismiss and behead Gamasa if he fails to check the crimes happening in the quarter. Although the events are similar, the trajectories and outcomes of J’ far and Gamasa head in opposite direction. Through a series of coincidence, J’ far finds out the one to blame and saves himself from hanging. However, facing the pressure from the governor and the temptation from the genie, Gamasa loses himself and ends up killing the governor. If J’ far in The Arabian Nights receives redemption, Gamasa in the novel falls into self-destruction. Also, upon the topic of crime, the novel changes the background of the story from a fair government under Harun al-Rashid into a corrupt system under the bloodthirsty sultan Shahryar, deleting the plot of life-saving storytelling but highlighting the absolute powers in the judgments of crimes.
In addition to these two major elements, some intricate details correlated to The Arabian Nights are also incorporated into the characterization of Gamasa to add more interesting intertextuality. For example, the character of Abdullah the porter can easily remind readers of Sinbad the porter or the porter in The Story of the Porter and the Three Ladies. The name “Abdullah” is also derived from The Story of Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman. The appearance of Abdullah the porter as an Ethiopian resembles that of the African Magician in The Story of ‘Ala al-Din and the Magic Lamp. Also, the “three spectral figures”,who claim to be strangers and ask for entrance to a party during the wedding of Fadil and Arkraman, clearly have the three dervishes in The Story of the Porter and the Three Ladies as their prototypes.
In the novel The Arabian Nights and Days, Naguib Mahfouz manipulates those familiar motifs and events in the original stories of The Arabian Nights into a new setting of a corrupt government to highlight theme of justice. The quarter in which Gamasa originally serves as the chief of police is under the governing of Shahryar, who is portrayed as a bloodthirsty tyrant. In Naguib Mahfouz’s representation, Shahryar acts as a bad example for the practice of justice. For instance, when Gamasa is fishing and lamenting his old friend Sanaan, he attributes the tragedy of Sanaan to the unjust governance of sultan: “What would become of us if a just governor were to take over our affairs? Had not the sultan himself killed hundreds of virgins and many pious men?”.Even the seduction by genie seems to be caused by the unjust ruler: “it is for the ruler to dispense justice from the beginning so that genies don’t intrude on our lives”.Here, Mahfouz highlights that the single act of injustice by the ruler can lead to the perversion of justice in the entire social system.
In such social setting of unjust governance and corrupt system, the character Gamasa has suffered from a series of struggles, soul-searching, and falls. In the four representations, Gamasa the chief of police, Abdullah the porter, the madman, and Abdullah the Sane, Naguib Mahfouz delineates the influence of a corrupt system and different perspectives involving with the theme of justice. At first, Gamasa is presented as the chief of police, a part of the corrupt system and a machine that serves it. In Mahfouz’s depiction, Gamasa lingers between good and evil, and struggles between his morality and desire for power and authority. For example, in the event of Sanaan’s execution and confiscation of property, Gamasa takes his share and refuses to return the property to help Sanaan’s family. Mahfouz employs metaphorical language to vividly portray the internal conflicts Gamasa faces under the temptation of power and subjection to authorities: Gamasa had taken his share despite his sadness at his friend fate, giving himself the excuse that to refuse would mean a challenge to the new governor: in his heart there was a place for emotions and another place for avidity and hardness.Mahfouz further magnifies this internal struggle and shows the influence of a corrupt system on Gamasa’s moral judgment: “He was not always devoid of good sentiments and religious remembrances, but he found no objection to practicing corruption in a corrupt world”.As the trajectory of Gamasa proceeds, “his tendency towards good became submerged and disappeared to faraway depths”.Entangled in hypocrites and absorbed by power, Gamasa gradually becomes a machine in the evil system of injustice and corruption. He interprets his position not as an upholder of social justice but as a subjection to authorities, as Gamasa confesses: “My duty is to carry out orders”.He has degraded into a machine in the corrupt system, depriving of moral judgement and responsibility. Under the pressure of the governor, he judges wrongly and kills the innocent. As Sigam the genie describes, Gamasa’s indulgence to his duty is merely “an excuse that tends to nullify the humanity of a human”.Swallowed by power and corruption, Gamasa has gradually lost his conscience and humanity. In his representation of Gamasa as the chief of police who struggles between good and evil but eventually falls into the abyss of corruption, Naguib Mahfouz demonstrates that an unjust governance can influence an individual’s moral judgement and homogenize him to become a machine of the system.
The story of Gamasa does not cease here. He is transformed into a different figure called Abdullah the porter, through which Mahfouz discusses the justification of protesting against unjust government through religious fanaticism and the Holy War. No longer wanting to serve as a machine in the world of corruption and injustice, Gamasa chooses to destroy himself by killing the governor of the quarter. However, his wish for death is not granted by the genie. He is resurrected and carries a new identity as Abdullah the porter. In his new body and identity, Abdullah intends to lead a new form of life filled by religion. He devotes himself to the worship of God and the practice of religion: “He resolved to walk along the path of godliness till the end”.He also makes effort to amend his past mistakes by caring for the family of Sanaan and becoming a friend of Fadil, Sanaan’s son. However, his commitment of religious belief goes towards an extreme, which resembles the mindset of a religious fanatic or even a fundamentalist. Positioning himself as an enemy to the evildoers, Abdullah the porter plots the Holy War and political assassinations of the governor, the secretary and the chief of police. However, instead of portraying Abdullah as a superhero who punishes the evil and upholds justice, Naguib Mahfouz expresses his concern and doubt towards the idea of political assassinations and the Holy War in his narration. After some successful assassinations of the corruptive forces, Abdullah murders Ibrahim al-Attar the druggist in the name of the Holy War. However, it is dubious whether this murder is a corrective movement to corruption in the name of God or out of personal revenge. As it is expressed in Abdullah’s psychological struggles, “How much was genuine holy war and how much anger and a desire for revenge”. Upon this intense struggle, Abdullah eventually confesses to judgement and turns into a madman. In showing the deviation of Abdullah from a believer of God and claimed upholder of social justice to a possible criminal and evildoer, Mahfouz casts doubt on the justifiability of the atrocities committed by religious fanatics and fundamentalists in the name of God. He also implies that killing and murders would eventually deteriorate humanity and turn a believer into a real criminal. Not only the moral justification of this approach is criticized, but also its effectiveness. In the episode of The Porter, Abdullah assassinates the corrupt officers. However, in the following episodes, the positions of those who are killed are taken over and over again by equally corrupt individuals like a vicious cycle. The killing of one corrupt individual does not make any difference to the corrupt system. By demonstrating the impotence of Abdullah’s political assassinations, Mahfouz points out that the social problems cannot be attributed to a certain individual but to the system as a whole, and the justice can be restored and sustained not by killing but a proper reform of the system.
Then, Gamasa or Abdullah the porter is transformed into the madman, who symbolizes a state of dehumanization caused by an unjust society. After confessing his crimes and claiming himself to be Gamasa whose head is still suspended at the gate, Abdullah is regarded as a madman and ostracized from the society. He loses his identity and humanity and turns into a wandering ghost-like character after a sequence of struggles with social justice. The dehumanization of this character reminds readers of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka in which man is transformed into a bug to reflect how society distorts humanity and brings about meaninglessness and nonbeing. In the same fashion, Naguib Mahfouz manipulates the motif of dehumanization to highlight how a corrupt society would influence an individual’s decisions and identities, and eventually deprives him of humanity.
In addition to dehumanization, the madman also represents a possible alternative of justice to the corrupt government, which is done by simple killing. Throughout the novel, the madman comes to the stage as a solution to conflicts in many of the stories. For example, in episode of Nur al-Din and Dunyazad, it is the madman who kills the monkey-faced millionaire so that Nur al-Din can live happily ever after with Dunyazad. In the episode of Anees al-Galees, it is also the madman who strangles the lady in the house so that the scandals of the quarter would not be disclosed. Through presenting madman as a quick and easy solution to conflicts, Naguib Mahfouz portrays an alternative to the corrupt government, which is the judgement done by a single individual. In the story of Nur al-Din and Dunyazad, the suffering of the two lovers are released thanks to the killing done by the madman. It seems like a happy ending that the charming protagonists finally marry each other while the monkey-faced millionaire is gotten rid of. However, after contemplation, it is dubious whether the millionaire really deserves death. Also, in the story of Anees al-Galees, a similar easy solution is provided by the madman. However, is Anees al-Galees the one to blame instead of the sinners of scandal? Has justice really been done? Naguib Mahfouz gives readers some clues in the conversation between the madman and Abdullah the Sea. When questioned why to kill Anees al-Galees instead of the sinners, the madman replies as follow: “I was sorry that morning should come and the citizens should not find a sultan or a vizier or a governor or a private secretary or a chief of police”.In this sense, the madman employs a convenient act of “justice” that only satisfies efficiency and practicality. It is a form of “justice” under disguise. Is the death of monkey-faced millionaire and Anees al-Galees justifiable? Is the absolute judgment made by an individual out of convenience really upholds social justice? It is a question asked by Naguib Mahfouz for the society to ruminate.
Finally, the madman undergoes a final transformation of identity, which represents Mahfouz’s vision of social justice in the future. At the end of the episode of Ma’ rouf the Cobblerand the beginning of Sinbad, Shahryar, the sultan who is making progress in his rule, appoints Ma’ rouf as the governor of the quarter, Nur al-Din as the private secretary and the madman as the chief of police. It seems that the vicious cycle of corruption will finally come to an end. The madman retrieves his original identity as the chief of police, which suggests that things eventually return to original states after a series of struggles, conflicts and chaos. In presenting a character’s trajectories like this, Naguib Mahfouz implies that life still goes on after a series of social crisis. Naguib Mahfouz gives Gamasa, Abdullah the porter or the madman a new name, Abdullah the Sane. Upon the leaving of Shahryar, Abdullah the Sane comes into the quarter. This signifies that the old rules of injustice are replaced with sanity, reasoning and fairness. However, the novel ends in a vague and obscure way. Is the coming of Abdullah the Sane really restores justice? Is it possible to restore justice after a prolonged period of corruption? Instead of a period, Naguib Mahfouz leaves the readers with a question mark.
Disguised in the fantastic characters and motifs from world classic The Arabian Nights,Naguib Mahfouz’s novel Arabian Nights and Days reflect the issue of justice in real society. In the four representations of one character, Mahfouz discusses the influence of a corrupt government and some contentious topics involving with justice. Henot only captures undesirable implications of an unjust government, such as the deprivation of morality and humanity, but also proposes some unsuccessful and dubious attempts to protest or replace the corrupt government, such as the Holy War and killing. At the end, he predicts hope but does not conclude with a definite answer, which implies an ongoing exploration of social justice and reform of the corrupt governance. In addition to his sensitivity to the social realities and issues in his age, Naguib Mahfouz also possesses incredible foresight in his writing to predict recent events like the Arabian Spring. As Mahfouz portrays in the novel, a reform of sanity and reasoning is required to replace the old corrupt institution; however, how much time, suffering, and struggles will precede the completion of reform is unknown to a society. Like the vague ending in the novel, the path of Arabian society is also likely to be obscure. Nevertheless, just as the Gamasa returns to his starting point as the chief of police after struggles and multiple transformations, the people will also carry on with their normal lives, hoping everything will be beheading to a better future.
Naguib Mahfouz,The Arabian Nights and Days (New York: First Anchor Books Edition,1995), 63
Haddawy, Husain. 2010. The Arabian Nights. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Mahfouz, Naguib. 1995.
The Arabian Nights and Days.New York: First Anchor Books Edition.
Kafka, Franz, and Stanley Corngold. 1981. The Metamorphosis.Toronto: Bantam Books.
Sindbad’s Character Traits: On Contradicting and Sympathizing with Homo Economicus
The story of Sindbad the Sailor, found in “The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments” and filled with countless economic transactions, can be understood through the application of different economic models to reveal the motives and driving forces of the principal character. By evaluating the actions of Sindbad in this 10th century collection of tales through an economic lens, and by applying the models of Homo Economicus (economic or self-interested man), Homo Reciprocans (reciprocating or cooperative man), and Homo Islamicus (Islamic man), we are able to infer why characters make certain choices and take certain risks. This allows us to gain a plethora of essential information we would otherwise neglect. The suggestion that Sindbad is the “ perfect embodiment” of Homo Economicus is an interesting, although ultimately unsupported statement. By focusing on three main theoretical models, Homo Economicus, Homo Islamicus, and Homo Reciprocans, we can work to characterize the actions of Sindbad, ultimately realizing that he seems to not conform to one specific economic model, but fits criteria of each.
Although Sindbad’s self-centeredness and greed fits with the traditional definitions of Homo Economicus, his charitable actions and irrational measures to obtain wealth make this statement unjustifiable. To apply these theories to the tale of Sindbad, we must acknowledge the academic conversation that has preceded this paper, and the opinions of scholars who have thoroughly studied the economics of these stories. It is also helpful to consult economists’ definitions of each theoretical model in order to correctly characterize the actions of our protagonist-hero, Sindbad. Kay and Mill are in agreement on the portrayal of Homo Economicus, using descriptive words such as “materialistic”, “self-interested”, and “pursuit of wealth”. Perhaps most valuable to analyzing Sindbad’s situation are Quiggin’s words on the Homo Economicus saying, “moral considerations…have no role to play.” Throughout Sindbad’s journeys we are given examples of his egocentrism, with a large focus on his fourth voyage where he kills for personal gain. Another variable that all three scholars agree upon is that the Homo Economicus is “calculating” and “capable of judging of the comparative efficacy of means for obtaining that end”(Mill, n.p.). This is a potential flaw in the sentiment that Sindbad is a perfect example of Homo Economicus. Throughout the book Sindbad’s judgment calls can be defined as irrational and risky. Two economists, Gintis and Romer, have helped to break down the character traits of the Homo Reciprocan in “The Human Side of Economic Analysis”. While many economists such as Mill use Homo Economicus as the general model for today’s human, Gintis and Romer argue that, “a considerable body of empirical evidence contradicts this view.” They argue that many humans fit into the category of Homo Reciprocans. This model helps to explain some of Sindbad’s economic choices when he is concerned with the “well-being of others” and as seen in many of the stories his willingness to, “cooperate and share with others”, especially when they have helped him. One other important model to apply to this situation would be Homo Islamicus for many reasons, especially focusing on the geographical setting of the story and the religious emphasis that Sindbad places on praising Allah and religion. Timur Kuran argues that Homo Islamicus, based off of laws from the Qur’an and Sunna, describes the man that is able to trade for a profit but is unable to cause harm to others with these activities. He is also forbidden to earn more than he should. The only problem with the description is the ambiguity of words such as, “norms”, “fair”, and “reasonable”. We can see parallels to Homo Islamicus as Sindbad’s consumption consists of land and charity, rather than adultery, wine, and illegitimate items. When consulting each professionals’ definition, the reader may find that Sindbad exemplifies not only one theory, but pieces of them all. When looking at these definitions, it is obvious that Sindbad cannot be the, “perfect embodiment” of Homo Economicus. To prove these definitions apply to Sindbad and to show his failure at fully representing the Homo Economicus prototype, an examination into his seven journeys must be made to back up this claim. Applying the concept of Homo Economicus to the character Sindbad is an interesting and insightful way to analyze his actions.
The overwhelming consensus on definitions of Homo Economicus points to a man who is selfish, greed driven, and lacking in morals. We find overwhelming evidence of these traits in his ability to sacrifice human lives for his own, and although he constantly reprimands himself for his greed moving him to go onto new voyages, he cannot resist the temptation of riches. The most moving cases of self-centeredness and lack of concern for others are found in the fourth and fifth voyages. Page 162 includes the passage, “I gave the unfortunate wretch two or three great blows…[and] killed her” and ends with, “I committed this inhuman action merely for…provisions.” Sindbad ends up killing 3 people for their water and bread. He justifies this by saying he needed their resources to live, but this is an extremely selfish act. To take multiple peoples’ lives to ensure one’s own is an extreme example of the self absorbed nature of Homo Economicus, presentation Sindbad as a reliable example of this economic model. In his fifth voyage, he kills an old man by getting him drunk although this is somewhat justified as Sindbad had an immediate risk of death if he did not remove the man from his neck. But, he is undoubtedly more aggressive and violent than his attacker. Although he could have refrained from killing the man, this murder is more acceptable than killing others for their food and water who have never done anything to harm him.
Addressing the other major qualification of Homo Economicus, the drive for greed, we are able to find specific examples of Sindbad’s voraciousness. He is driven by greed, to fulfill his sense of adventure, continuing onto seven separate journeys. His sixth voyage starts out with, “I could not but reflect upon myself as the cause of my own ruin, and repented that I had ever undertake this last voyage” (169). He fears he finally has to pay a price for his greed. However, this quote can also be an example of one great incongruity with Sindbad being a Homo Economicus. He proves time and time again that he will let his emotions and greed get the best of him by going on these life-threatening expeditions. We know he regrets these choices, starting most narratives with, “the pleasures of the life which I then led soon made me forget the risks I had run in my two former voyages” (151). After almost dying six times, he still goes on the seventh voyage. This shows that his want for money clouds his judgment. If we take from Mill’s definition, we see Homo Economicus is someone who “is capable of judging the comparative efficacy of means for obtaining that end” and one who knows, “consequence of the pursuit of wealth” (Mill). Although Sindbad returns with sufficient wealth each time, enough to donate to charity and buy nice estates, he still pursues more. According to this theory, after gaining riches, Sindbad should have discontinued his voyages. Yet, his choice to keep going is illogical, and counter to the principle of rationality in Homo Economicus.
Another line of inquiry is that Sindbad is not Homo Economicus, but rather Homo Reciprocans. Sindbad, gracious to those who help him and obliged to help those who have provided for him, offers jewels to the merchants who aid him in his second voyage, and the king in the fourth voyage. This demonstrates his willingness to show gratitude and give of material possessions to others. Homo Reciprocans share even at a personal cost. Nevertheless, Sindbad cannot be classified as Homo Reciprocans due to his neglect for the “well-being of others.” With the multiple murders he commits, his selfishness is a major contradiction to this theoretical model. The last theory we can apply to Sindbad would be that of Homo Islamicus. This theory is especially interesting due to the religious aspects of this book and the setting. It focuses on morality with a special emphasis on charity. Although we find Sindbad to have the selfish characteristics of a Homo Economicus, in his second, third and forth voyages he says he, “gave a great deal to the poor” (156), and he doesn’t spend his money on things such as adultery and gambling. The Islamic man is permitted to “ trade for personal profit” so Sindbad’s line of work is an acceptable way to receive wealth. However the Homo Islamicus is, similar to the Homo Reciprocans is, “required to avoid causing harm to others”, and Sindbad clearly doesn’t have much concern for others. Homo Islamicus, “forgoes temptations of immediate gain when by doing so he can protect and promote the interest of his fellows”(Kuran, n.p.). And although he trades for profit and gives to charity as he is required to, he sometimes does this at the expense of theirs, and it can be argued that he lives in excess wealth that exceeds the amount of riches he should have. Throughout this piece, the evidence for and against Sindbad’s characterization as “the perfect embodiment” of Homo Economicus has been explored and disproven. Although he exemplifies many traits of this economic model, his transactions heavily borrow variables from Homo Reciprocens and Homo Islamicus.
After a review of each of the three main theoretical archetypes, Sindbad appears to not fit into any of these choices. Although the audience pushes to fit Sindbad’s actions into one simple model, this is not a realistic way to portray his economic choices and motives. He heavily borrows ideas from all three. When applying economic ideas such as these to a fictional text, we must understand the many limitations that may cause the characters to differ from the models. It is hard to place a character from a 10th century Arabic collection of tales into modern day economic models originating in the West. Although there are limitations to the models, they are helpful in evaluating this tale. Looking to the bigger picture, in the frame story, Scheherazade is very similar to Sindbad. They both tell a new story every night and are trying to entice their listeners to come back and listen every night. Scheherazade is telling these stories of a wealthy man who is surprisingly generous, gaining and giving lots of money, to try to convince King Schahriar to be generous and kind. Sindbad never gives up when bad things happen to him, and only though his perseverance gains riches. If the king gives up hope on women and on kindness because of his wife, he will never receive anything good. Sindbad helps us to understand the difficulties economists have in classifying consumers. Sindbad’s stories exhibit that many people are driven for wealth and can make selfish choices, while also having moral obligations give. Ultimately we learn that human beings are complex, irrational, and hard to classify.
Works Cited Kay, John, “In Search of Self-Interest.” Financial Times. 30 July 2002. Web. 27 Jan 2015 Kuran, Timur, “The Economic System in Contemporary Islamic Thought: Interpretation and Assessment.” International Journal of Middle East Studies. 18.2 (1986):135. Mack, Robert, Ed. The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. Oxford: Oxford up, 2009. Print. Mill, John Stuart, “Essay V: On the Defintiion of Political Economy and on the Method of Investigation Proper to it.” Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy. London: Parker, 1844, 137. Print. Quiggin, John, ‘Economic Rationalism,’ Crossings 2.1 (1997):3-12. Romer, Paul and Gintis, Herbert, “The Human Side of Economic Analysis: Economic Environments and the Evolution of norms and Preferences.” July 15, 1998. 1. Web. 6 Sep., 2015. http://www.umass.edu/preferen/gintis/human.pdf
Women and Power in The Thousand and One Nights
The Thousand and One Nights is a collection of stories originally told from an oral tradition that was later written down and spread from its place of origin, the Middle East, throughout the western countries. It is told through a frame-tale format, which allows for many stories to fit within the overarching plot-line. This brings in many characters, narrators, and perspectives into the work which can make it difficult to find one, single viewpoint. Women, in particular, have conflicting descriptors which can lead to multiple interpretations of the power they have within this region of the world. Thus, it is only natural to question how some women obtain the power they exhibit within these tales while it seems as though they should have no power at all. While women in The Thousand and One Nights may have moments of power it can only be found through manipulation, and even so, this power is limited and thus unable to control their own fates.
Women, when they attempt to take control, through obvious means, are met with beatings or death. The whole tale begins when King Shahrayar walks in on his wife and a kitchen boy (1177). She had believed that her husband had already left on his visit to his brother, and leaving her alone in the palace. While this may not have been the best decision the wife could have made, she is still attempting to take control of her own fate- instead of waiting around for her husband to return to her. This situation is similar to King Shahzaman and his wife, who was found to be cheating by King Shahrayar. In both of these cases the brothers exhibited similar levels of anger, it “boiled” (1177,1179) within them, and decided the only way to react in this horrid act of unfaithfulness was to put their wives to death. The wives both had tried to take control of their own lives by sleeping with various servants/commoners. When their husbands found out they were all put to death. Why? They didn’t manipulate the situation in any way, merely tried to sneak in moments of power over their own fates. And in the end failed. This brutality toward women can be seen in a less extreme way within the tales told, for example in “The Tale of the Merchant and His Wife.” The wife gets angered at her husband for refusing to disclose information for his odd behaviors, and demands him to tell her the truth. The husband who would be put to death by God for telling of his gift of “the language of the beasts” (1183) refuses to tell her. She is persistent, not wishing to give up this power over him. When the husband cannot talk her down, he is left with no choice but to beat her into submission- “Then he began to beat her mercilessly on her chest and shoulders and kept beating her until she cried for mercy, screaming, ‘No, no, I don’t want to know anything. Leave me alone, leave me alone. I don’t want to know anything” (1186). His reaction lead to her needing to beg for him to stop hurting her. She gave up her power almost instantly. All because the merchant could not allow his wife to hold so much power over him, and so beat her until she had no other choice but to give in to him. He “beat her mercilessly” what other options could his wife possibly employ? It was between power and life, and women in this society are not meant to have power.
Well, women can have power, but it is only through manipulation and in other ways that the men are oblivious to the power they hold. The biggest example of this being Shahrazad. She is a woman in a higher status– the daughter of the King’s vizier, and she is educated. She could have been saved from the King’s cruel ways because of her bloodline, however she decides to use her knowledge and intelligence to help the other women from certain death (1182-3). Well, this blatant power transfer could only be done through manipulation. Shahrazad plan is “to tell a story, and it will cause the king to stop his practice, save myself, and deliver the people” (1186). Shahrazad’s diction proves that she is fully dedicated to this plan. There are no moments of hesitation or regret within the story, and her word choices are sure an calculated. She will save herself. She will deliver the people. But despite this is an incredibly naïve plan, it somehow works in saving Shahrazad. She is manipulating the king into wishing to hear more and more of her tales by leaving the stories on a cliffhanger at the end of each night. Using her position as storyteller, Shahrazad made is so that if the King would wish to hear the end of the story he would have to spare her another night. Does she have power here? Yes. Does she have full and complete power? No. The power is still ultimately held in the king. At any point, he can decide that he has had enough of this story and put her to death like all the others. She is still enslaved to him and her own plan with no real power in choosing her fate.
In The Thousand and One Nights, women are nearly powerless, and the only power they can even grapple with is a very small amount they got through manipulation. This is enough for some of the women, such as the heroine of the tales, Shahrazad, in which she understands that for the greater good this is her life now. Men cannot become aware of the woman’s intentions, and if they do it can become fatal– like the Kings wives, or the Merchant’s wife. Power was brutally stripped away from them by the men. There are glimmers of power within the lives of the women, however, they all remain virtually powerless in the end.