My Thoughts About the Classic Story "The Thousand and One Nights" Part 2
Shahrazad is a one of the few women in the stories who did not demonstrate these behaviors. She was not cunning or unfaithful and her only deceit was the plan to save the lives of the young women in the kingdom, which can hardly be held against her. After all, most people would do whatever they could in order to prevent their own death or the innocent death of others. There was a pattern to the stories that she told to Shahrayar. Within several of the stories where a woman (or in a few cases a man) had been deceitful, cunning, or unfaithful there was also a “good” woman that wasn’t any of these things. For example, in The First Old Man’s Tal e, after the jealous wife turned his son into a bull his shepherd ’s daughter was able to change the son back, as well as turn the evil wife into a deer. We see this again in The Second Old Man’s Tale where it was his two brothers that were jealous and tried to kill him. It was his wife (who was a she-demon in disguise) that saved him and then punished his brothers by having them turned into dogs. Shahrazad did this in order to teach Shahrayar that not all women are bad.
Finally, through the stories we can observe the interaction between the two sexes and the punishments for those who violate social boundaries. The early Arabian culture was extremely patriarchal, almost to the point of being misogynistic. There were often double standards for the men and women. For example, Shahrayar blamed his wife and her maids for their infidelity and punished them with death, but there was no mention of punishment for the male slaves that they were unfaithful with. Another example of the double standards was in The First Old Man’s Tale . It was acceptable for the husband to be unfaithful with his mistress, and if that weren’t enough, his wife was expected to take care of the mistress and her son while he was away on business for an entire year. We can also observe that although many of the women in the stories chose to violate social boundaries they were rarely openly defiant. Even in The Tale of the Enchanted King the evil queen at first attempted to hide her infidelity by giving her husband a sleeping potion before she went to visit her lover. It was only after her husband learned of her deception and attempted to kill her lover that she became openly defiant. The interaction between the men and women throughout the stories seems strained. Love was rarely if ever mentioned. The women demonstrated their gender roles mainly to avoid punishment, which when administered was usually in the form of beating or death. The best demonstration of this was in the story of Shahrayar and his unfaithful wife.
In conclusion, through the complex tales that comprise The Thousand and One Nights, we can observe a great deal about the early Arabian culture. We can see that it was a patriarchal society with specific gender roles. The men were expected to be the breadwinners, to demonstrate their male authority, and to enforce it with good management. The women were expected to stay home and keep house, and to be faithful, submissive and obedient. Throughout the stories we can see several patterns of behavior for both the men and women. The men tended to be violent, paranoid, jealous and quick to judge. The women tended to be deceitful, cunning, and unfaithful to their husbands. Shahrazad was one of the few women who did not demonstrate these behaviors. Finally, we can observe that the interaction between the two sexes was usually strained, that love was rarely if ever mentioned, and that there were double standards for men and women. The punishment for violating social boundaries was beating and/or death. It is amazing how much we can learn from past cultures through the literature they leave behind.