The Thousand and One Arabian Nights

Plot

The Arabian Nights (The Thousand and One Nights, or The Thousand Nights and One Night) is a collection of Arabic short stories.  The story starts with a king, Shahzaman, whose wife has committed adultery with a kitchen boy.  He kills both of them and declares that he shall leave immediately for his brother’s kingdom in India.  Shahzaman gets to the palace of his brother, Shahrayar.  While he is in his brother’s home, he grows sickly and pale because of his internal demons.  He is king but he cannot protect or keep what is his.  His brother invites him on a hunt, but he declines, staying in the palace with his grief.  Then he witnesses his brother’s wife, paramours, and concubines fraternizing with the black slave boys.  He realizes that his misfortune is not uncommon, and he “finds consolations in his own affliction and forgets his grief.”  After Shahrayar gets back from the hunt, Shahzaman eventually tells him about his wife, and he would like to see this with his own eyes.  They sneak out, under the guise of another hunt, but go back into the city to catch his wife with the black slave.  Realizing the truth of the matter, the brothers decide to go on a journey.  On this journey, they cross the path of a demon’s wife, who commands them to sleep with her, bringing her total to one hundred men she has slept with while entrapped in the horrible marriage of the demon.  She showed the brothers that a woman’s cunning will get her what she wants.  They travel back to their cities, and Shahrayar has a plan in mind to outwit a woman’s cunning wiles.  When Shahrayar returns he puts his wife to death, then he orders his vizier to find a daughter of a prince.  He marries her, and then kills her the next morning, before any harm can befall him.  Shahrayar continues this for many days, until the people call for a plague upon the head of their king.  However, the vizier has two daughters. Shahrazad has been well educated and is knowledgeable.  With a plan in mind, she requests that her father marry her to the king.  Her father, the vizier, tells her the story of the donkey and the ox, stating that her miscalculation will be the end of her.  Then when she insists to be wed to the king, he threatens with the story of the Merchant and His Wife to beat her.  She still requests.  The vizier goes before the king, telling him that his daughter would like to marry him.  They are wed, and that night Shahrazad requests that she say good bye to her sister before her death in the morning.  The king agrees and sends for Dinarzad, who requests a story from her sister before she sleeps.  With the king’s permission she starts the story of the Merchant and the Demon, but does not finish due to sunrise and sleep.  As morning overtakes her, her audience is intrigued by her story.  She states “What is this compared with what I shall tell you tomorrow night if the king spares me and lets me live?”  Due to his curiosity, she is not put to death, but the next night continues the story.  She does this for one thousand and one nights.  At the end, the king accepts her as his queen, having learned many lessons about life from her stories. 

Symbols

Every story told by Shahrazad is symbolic.  The merchant and the demon is representative of her plight of being unjustly killed.  The stories that her father, the vizier, tell her in the beginning are illustrating to her the severity of the repercussions of her actions.  The main symbol in the story has little literary influence, but it has a sociological influence.  The ideal that Shahrazad has influenced a man of such power in a male dominated society, such as the Middle East, is one even modern day women hold onto.

 

See Sociological and Psychological Implications

Images

The style of writing in the collection of short stories seems to include more dialect rather than imagery.  The entirety of the works had given the European society an image of the Middle Eastern culture, an image that the Europeans found to be very exotic and alluring. 

Characters

Main Characters-
Shahrazad- protagonist, one of the few heroines in Middle Eastern literature
Shahrayar- anatagonist, king of the land, who kills the women that he marries after one night because he was wronged by his first wife

Supporting Characters-
Shahzamad- Shahrayar’s brother, told him that his wife was unfaithful
The vizier- assistant to the king, father of Sharazad
Dinarzad- Shahrazad’s sister and supportive audience to her stories, under her prompts is Shahrazad is able to capture the king’s curiosity and attention