Friendship: Defined by Shared Respect or Religious Brotherhood?
A good friend is someone who is able to change from being selfish to selfless and through that, prioritize the needs of others before their own. Seen in The Story of Sindbad the Sailor, Sindbad the Sailor feels that he owes Sindbad the Porter the share of the stories of his travels, to teach the porter the right and wrong doings that he learned from his adventures. Sindbad the Sailor sees that throughout his many voyages, not all of his acts were selfless, therefore he feels the need to share his stories with Sindbad the Porter. Similarly seen in Abdallah the Fisherman and Abdallah the Merman” , Abdallah the Fisherman feels that in order to be fair to the baker who helped him in a time of need, he must return the favor and share the gifts of the sea with him. This is an example of selflessness shown through an embrace of equality. The ability of one individual to notice that when someone does something to help them out, the least that person deserves is to get the same treatment back. The motif of an eye for an eye is seen in this constant sense of selflessness in equality that is seen in both Abdallah the Fisherman’s need to share with the baker and the need to feel equal in friendship with Abdallah the Merman in the fact that he was even willing to go see how he lives underwater. Selfishness turning into selflessness, is seen constantly in both stories being compared, and therefore it can be said that friendship is seen and grown through equality and altruism between individuals.
Throughout The Story of Sindbad the Sailor, the reader is exposed to evidence of friendship through equality and gratitude that turns selfishness into selflessness. Right at the start of The Story of Sindbad the Sailor, when Sindbad the Porter meets Sindbad the Sailor, it is evident that the two are in different places in their lives. Sindbad the Sailor immediately sees that by starting a friendship with the Porter, he will be able to share his wealth and stories with him in order to help the Porter but also to become a selfless person. Sindbad the Porter feels embarrassed of himself when surrounded by all of the Sailor’s accumulated wealth. Right when the Porter mentions his discomfort, the Sailor states “Do not be ashamed, for you have become a brother to me…” (The Arabian Nights, 305). By calling the Porter a brother, the Sailor is acknowledging that he will work at helping him grow and aid him through advice and therefore being a selfless friend; not expecting anything in return. Prefacing the share of his voyages with “Porter, my story is astonishing, and I will relate to you all that happened to me before I attained this prosperity and came to sit in this place, where you now see me, for I did not attain this good fortune and this place save after severe toil, great hardships, and many perils…” (The Arabian Nights, 305), the Sailor is telling the Porter that he was once in his place; that he had to go through a lot of hardships and individual growth to gain the wealth that he has, almost justifying his accumulation. The model of friendship begins through Sindbad the Sailor realizing that he can truly help Sindbad the Porter become grateful for the life he has and realize that he had to go through many troubles and risks to get to the place that the Porter sees him in. Reiterating the point that the basis of the Sailor and the Porter’s friendship is to grow selfless, the Sailor takes the opportunity to help the Porter (not use him) to grow selfless. Common ground is staked out when at the beginning of the story of his first voyage, the Sailor tells the Porter that prior to embarking on the journey, he had nothing; all of his prior wealth was lost after he had lost his father and blew all of his money. This is an example of him trying to empathize with the Porter and to show him that if he really wanted to, he could go from having nothing, to the wealth that the Sailor has at the point of sharing the stories. It can be inferred through the analysis of the Sailor’s personal growth throughout the voyages that he realizes throughout his journeys, he started going through a cyclic pattern of greed, thinking of himself and his own good before the overall good of others, making him a selfish person. Once he realizes during the seventh voyage that he is doing things to better his own life, without the consideration of the fact that others are being hurt by his actions, he states, “They flew down, and dropping me on a high mountain, departed, feeling very angry with me, and left me alone. I blamed myself for what I had done and said to myself, ‘There is no power and no strength, save in God the Almighty, the Magnificent. Every time I escape from a calamity, I fall into a worse one” (Arabian Nights, 347). This is when he realizes that the voyages he embarked on were for his own good and from that moment, he realizes that it is better to grow content with what one has and help others realize that, rather than constantly striving to grow more and more wealthy. By becoming friends with Sindbad the Porter, Sindbad the Sailor is successful in achieving selflessness through realizing that his past selfishness was toxic and not allowing him to grow through aiding others.
Throughout the story of “Abdallah the Fisherman and Abdallah the Merman”, friendship based on equality is a prominent theme, addressed in many ways in the sense that Abdallah of the Land feels the need to show gratitude to both Abdallah of the Sea, and the baker, since both men helped him out in times of need. The baker’s acceptance of the agreement that Abdallah the Fisherman would pay him back for the food he gave him “when he could” (Abdallah the Fisherman and Abdallah the Merman, 663) means that he trusts Abdallah of the land, trust being an integral aspect of friendship in this story. Trust is a societal value that makes friends know that they depend on one another and that the things they do for one another are appreciated and are therefore obligated to not hurt one another. This trust pays off for the baker since when introduced to Abdallah of the Sea, Abdallah of the Land shares the gifts of the sea with the baker, giving the baker access to things he didn’t have access to prior to the friendship with Abdallah of the Land. Abdallah of the Sea and Abdallah of the Land use religion to help grow their trust in one another. Shortly after they agreed on exchanging gifts of the land for gifts of the sea, “They recited the first chapter of the Koran in token of their agreement […]”(Abdallah the Fisherman and Abdallah the Merman, 664); using religion to secure the agreement. This is an example of friendship through trust because they are confirming that they will be there for one another and help each other out for sure, since they are involving God in their agreement. Abdallah the Fisherman continues to go to the Merman and after a year, asks for a leave for a religious pilgrimage. In order for the Merman to grant him this leave, he asks him to show him his devotion to this friendship through an act that Abdallah the Fisherman risked his life doing. The Merman says to the Fisherman, “I have a trust to give thee; so come thou with me to my city and my house and entertain thee…” (Abdallah the Fisherman and Abdallah the Merman, 686), asking of the Fisherman to join him underwater; an environment that humans cannot survive in. By allowing the Merman to cover him in the fat of a monstrous fish and placing his life in the Merman’s hands, the Fisherman is showing his devotion to friendship with the Merman, a friendship that started with a pact that was sealed by a combined faith in the words of God and the writings of the Koran.
In both The Story of Sindbad the Sailor and “Abdallah the Fisherman and Abdallah the Merman”, friendship can be looked at through a few different lenses. Two prominent ones would be, friendship based on shared respect, as well as friendship based on religious brotherhood. Mentioned previously, when Sindbad the Sailor refers to Sindbad the Porter as a brother, he is finding a connection that is deeper than an acquaintance; a connection that the Porter will feel more safe and comfortable in, where he feels the that Sailor is looking out for him, with his best intentions in mind rather than using him for his own good. Mentioning “…the day of death is better than the day of birth.”(Arabian Nights, 305), religion is referenced in the sense that when one is born, they are a plain slate, with doing no wrong doings, as well as no good deeds. Once one dies, they have the potential to be honored and gifted by God based on the good they do. Mention of this is foreshadowing the idea that he wants to do right and do good deeds such as influencing the Porter to be content with his life and see that in order to get to the immense wealth that he got to, the Sailor had to do things that questioned his moral and ability to do good deeds. In the story of the two Abdallahs, their friendship is based on doing good for one being returned by doing good for the other. Just like in the relationship between the two Sindbads, the two Abdallahs do have religious brotherhood in the sense that religion binds them together in their values and makes their trust grow deeper but moreso, the fact that the men in both stories feel the need to return favors to one another as signs of equality, the motif of an eye for an eye, there is more focus on friendship being based on shared respect rather than religious brotherhood.
Shared respect is a sign of friendship in both stories due to the exemplified need of Sindbad the Sailor to share with Sindbad the Porter the stories of his travels so that the porter will not make the mistakes as he did and see that being selfless and content will give one more success than being wealthy and selfish. This is also seen in Abdallah the Fisherman’s need to give back the goods of the sea to the baker who helped him in a time of need. Respect in terms of being on the same empathetic as well as level of giving back to someone, is the thing that brings all of the characters in the stories to develop friendships. Selflessness in the ability for the two Sindbads and the two Abdallahs to trust one another and allow one another to enter each other’s worlds, (Abdallah the Fisherman’s entry into the underwater world of the Merman and Sindbad the Porter’s entry into Sindbad the Sailor’s stories of his travels), allows all of the characters to grow their friendships on equal playing fields and learning to prioritize the needs of others over their own.
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