The Thousand and One Nights, a collection of about 200 stories, is probably the most famous piece of Arabic literature in the West. It includes the adventures of such well-known characters as Aladdin, Ali Baba, and Sinbad. The stories of the Arabian Nights are folk tales from Arabia, Egypt, India, Persia, and other countries. The work in its present form was written in Arabic about 1500. In the early 1700’s, Jean Antoine Galland translated the Arabian Nights into French. John Payne and Sir Richard Francis Burton wrote English translations of the collection in the 1880’s. According to the Occident (west) the Orient (east) is an exotic and mysterious land. The sources of this assumption are the stories in The Thousand and One Nights. The following essay describes how these stories contributed to the western view of the eastern/oriental women.
The Thousand and One Nights, also called Arabian Nights, begins with the story of King Shahriyar, who has learned that his wife has been unfaithful. He orders her killed and vows to marry a new maiden each night and have her beheaded the next morning. One of the king’s officials has a beautiful and talented daughter, named Sharazad, who insists on being the ruler’s bride. She asks her sister to come to the bedchamber on the wedding night and request permission for Sharazad to tell one last story. The king agrees, and she tells a tale so entertaining that he allows her to live another day to finish it. One story leads to another, and Sharazad tells tales for a thousand and one nights. By then, the king has become very fond of her stories and also of her that he spares her life.
Based on the reading of the frame story, we can conclude that the stories in the Thousand and One Nights lead the western readers to believe that the east is a place of magic where the people live luxurious and prosperous lives. (Fond of sport and merriment?custom to go out in quest of pleasure and amusement: – from the Tale of The Hunchback). These stories also make the east seem like a magical and exotic place. (?Jinni of gigantic stature carrying a chest?and there rose form the box a beautiful young girl: – from the Prologue). In the Thousand and One Arabian Nights, most or all the women are portrayed as extremely beautiful and seductive. In addition to that it seems that the women were lustier than their men and faced no moral dilemma in deceiving them.
In the story of Shahriyar his wife deceives him and ruins his life and leads him to assume/believe that all women were unfaithful and character less. Naturally, any western reader, oblivious to the reality, will believe the same thing because, even though this piece of work springs completely from the writer’s imagination, the style in which it’s written and the westerners limited knowledge of the east leads him to see this work as inspired by reality.
In summary, the westerners look at an oriental/eastern woman as a beautiful and powerful seductress; an object to desire without possibility of love. In some regions of the world, this view/description will be derogatory and in others glorifying. In my opinion it’s not easy to decide whether this kind of an approach to oriental women is commendable or slanderous. It all depends on the regional cultures and as far as cultures go, most of them will take this view in its negative stance.