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The thousand and One Nights: Gender and Power Dynamics

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1178 words Published: 4th Sep 2017

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GENDER/POWER dynamics as seen in The thousand and one nights

The Thousand and one Nights are a collection of stories in the middle east/south asia in the golden Islamic age. The tales are centered around the people Shahrayar and Shahrazad. Sharazad uses her power of storytelling to King sharayar to keep her and others protected from being executed. Throughout the story we see that women are only seen as objects of pleasure as women only can hold onto their power through sex,desire and beauty. Women in the stories in the thousand and one nights The thousand and one nights uses Sharazad to represent feminism as with her wisdom and her way of storytelling we see how she overpowers herself and change Shahrayar.This juxtaposing idea of women's role in society and Shahrazad shows us the actual value that women possess as they are just equal to men. There is also an interesting correlation with gender/power dynamic and with class that is present in the thousand and one nights.

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There is this common theme in the stories Shahrazad tells sharayar the stories can be labeled as misogynistic as some of the stories told feature men who cause the downfall of women. An example being the short story "The merchant and his wife". When reading this story readers might be quite surprised on the message the story is trying to convey that men should be able to beat their wives in order to control them. At first I was quite confused on why Shahrazad tells this specific story in order to change shahrayar but then I found that she tells this story in order to show a reflection of him and his actions. The actual intended message was to show that beating women won't force obedience. Telling this story surprisingly actually worked as she didn't get killed by the king the day after.

In the "Fisherman and the Jinni" we are introduced to a Jinni and Fisherman as this story concerns on this idea of this power dynamic. In the story we are first introduced to this fisherman who we see that this fisherman is near the shores trying to catch fish for his family. We then see the fisherman reels in a golden jar which then a Jinni comes out of. The Jinni then tries to kill the fisherman but fails to do so as the fisherman is then tricked to go back into the jar. We see this idea embedded in the quote "'Since I must die,' he said, 'before I choose the manner of my death, I conjure you on your honour to tell me if you really were in that vase?'" This quote itself makes readers question the validity of status in society as this reveals us how a fisherman is trying/planning to outsmart a Jinni. The fisherman is considered as a person of such low status and him being able to outsmart such a powerful creature must mean something . Status is just a social construct created by society and Shahrazad telling this story shows this.There is also this strong relation with Allah the story revolves around this idea that if you trust and believe in allah good will always come to you.

In one of the stories "The Woman Whose Hands Were Cut Off For that She Gave Alms to the Poor"we see an interesting point regarding the gender dynamic commonly seen in the thousand and one nights. We see here a clear portrayal of how women can hold on their power other than things like sex,beauty and desire. Instead we see the women holding onto her power with her generosity. In the story we see here that a woman's hand is cut off after giving food to a poor man. Later in the story this act of generosity is what saves her as the scene when she tries to save a baby from drowning the food that she gave to the old man comes and restores her hands. Seen in the story the power of generosity helps her retain her power as a woman. We see this similar concept in another story in the thousand and one nights named "The Miller and his Wife" . Where the wife used her intelligence to retain her power. The wife in the story after finding out the miller's dream about the treasure uses this to try to attract the attention of her real lover which is their neighbor. Having this attribute helps her both gain her actual lover and getting rid of her husband. But the exact thing women were valued during this time overcomes her and she fails to get what she wants. Instead of holding onto her power with her intelligence she lets her love and sexual desire for the neighbor get the best of her thus leading her both to lose her love and the treasure.

In the Tale of Ala-al din and the wonderful lamp we see this aspect of gender/Power dynamic. Women are rarely given voices and are only to be desired by men. We are introduced to this character named Ala-al-din even is considered the protagonist is actually a character that is filled with greed. When Ala-al-din first meets with the genie and turns ala-al-din who is considered a 'low-life' into a well-respected man only for his riches. When Ala-al din was transformed into this "new man" we see his undeniable greed as he only wanted to flaunt with what he wanted. His main desire was getting the sultan's daughter despite her already being married he makes a plan to her. This idea shows one of the framings of women in the thousand and one nights as in this case we see the daughter acting as a desirable object. At the end of the story we are given this closing which states ""Aladdin had won the hearts of the people by his gentle bearing. He was made captain of the Sultan's armies, and won several battles for him, but remained as courteous as before, and lived thus in peace and content for several years." When reading this quote readers get a sense of this feeling of greed. The theme of Aladdin seems to focus on this idea that the whole rag to riches theme can be only achieved by the feeling of greed. That if you want a better life for yourself you will have to be greedy. Ala Al-Din also shows his power by outsmarting the genie Before meeting the genie Ala al din is seen as a low life as he is very poor but we see this quickly turn around when he meets the genie and is then transformed into a wealthy respectable man. We see this interesting connection also within "The fisherman and the Jinni" how a person with low status is able to outsmart a being who is considered powerful. This shows how this idea of status is imaginary and means nothing. Ala-al din is actually powerful in his own terms and doesn't need society labelling him of such low status.

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Conclusively The thousand and one nights in a larger frame actually shows us the power and value that women possess regardless of the fact that the stories were labelled as misogynistic by many and the morals and virtues believed when the stories were made.. Women possess this power of intelligence that helps them retain their power which is clearly seen in numerous stories in the thousand and one nights. The thousand and one nights clearly act as a symbol of feministic literature pieces from many years to come.


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