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The Arabian Nights: A Literary Analysis

Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

The Arabian Nights

The Arabian Nights: A Treasure of World Literature

During the Islamic Golden Age in the Medieval Period, One Thousand and One Nights or popularly known as The Arabian Nights has been one of the most significant pieces of literature in the Islamic Culture that stretches from the Western up to the Southern Part of Asia. In the Arabic culture, it is not particularly given significance and rarely treasured as a popular piece of literature because of the low cultural interest to literature among Arabs in the Middle Ages until the present period. However, it is hard to deny the fact that this piece of literature is important and has influenced many different forms of literature not only in the Islamic culture but also to the entire world as well.

The Arabian Nights is a consistent and large collection of witty short stories, fairy tales, legends, adventure stories, fables and different forms of literature that are collected over centuries from different authors, scholars and translators that are rooted in ancient and medieval Arabic, Persian, Egyptian and Indian traditions and cultural roots. Though it is centered within a single frame story, the Arabian Nights revolves around different themes especially in the Arabic and Islamic contexts of rags to riches, immortality, sexuality, destiny, greed and good fortune.

The Arabian Nights did not become a significant piece of literature not only in some parts of Asia but also to the whole world by chance or good fortune but because it contains elements such as originality and creativity that helped in paving its way to becoming a literary classic that survived the test of time and universality. These elements are usually found in the literary structure and themes of the collection of stories.

A Creative and Original Collection of Stories

The Arabian Nights and the different tales and stories within it contain various innovative and inventive literary techniques that are fresh and distinct from western form of literary writing. Traces of Persian, Indian and Arabic culture, folklore and literature can be found in the collection, but others are exquisitely original. The creativity of the collection primarily lies on the frame story which was artistically utilized in order to strongly present the following stories that are necessary in the building of the entire collection.

Frame Story: A Strong Framework

The concept framing device or the frame story employed in the Arabian Nights is rooted in the ancient Sanskrit literature and was later on introduced and flourished in Arabian and Persian culture and literature such as this well-known work.

In the Arabian Nights, the frame story centers on the themes of loyalty and unfaithfulness among royalties. It begins with the story of the two brothers who are loyal to each other and each has unfaithful wife.

The entire collection now is founded in the story of one of the brothers, a king, who experienced having an unfaithful wife. The king, Shahrayar, swore to himself not to experience that kind of tragedy again so he decided to marry a maiden every night and kill her in the morning just to prevent further unfaithfulness and betrayal.

The heroine of the collection, Scheherazade, however, decided to end this pattern. The well-educated and knowledgeable daughter of the royal vizier requested to marry the kind with a plan in mind, of course. This is the beginning of the story telling in because her father, the vizier, narrated the story of the donkey and the ox to Scheherazade just to warn her that it will definitely be the end of her once he marries the angry king. She insisted in marrying the king and used another story, the story of the merchant and his wife, to illustrate that he would end the king’s killing pattern.

Scheherazade finally married the king and her solution to her new problem was by telling a story to the king and not finishing it until morning. On that kind of setting, the heroine is spared every morning, and this lasted for one thousand and one nights. She began with the story of the merchant and the demon which illustrate their situation perfectly.

A Unique Style of Interlocking Stories

What follows is a series of interrelated and interlocking stories that revolves around various and different themes that seem to have deep literary structures. In Richard Burton’s journal published in 2003, he claims that “the general story is narrated by an unknown narrator, and in this narration the stories are told by Scheherazade. In most of Scheherazade's narrations there are also stories narrated, and even in some of these, there are some other stories.”

What makes this collection of stories more unique is the existence of stories within stories within stories. This kind of style is also rooted in Ancient Sanskrit but was also introduced and flourished by the Persian and Arabian literary culture.

Classical Themes and Deep Structures

Another compelling element in the success of this literary material is the use of profound and strong themes. These themes are common in everyday experiences, yet they are used meaningfully in the collection.

Themes such as good fortune and persistence that can be found in the story of Aladdin and Ali Baba became the visage of the Arabian Nights. Sexuality and immortality are also present especially in the story of Sinbad. Magic is also a common theme in the stories of Scheherazade because of the existence of genies. Royalty and poverty are also common themes of the said collection. Finally, fate and destiny is the ultimate theme. For Robert Irwin, though invisible, fate may be considered a leading character in the One Thousand and One Nights.

The themes that can be found in the collection add strength to the universality of the collection.

Conclusion

The Arabian Nights: One Thousand and One Nights is a treasure of world literature because of many factors. These factors lie in the uniqueness and creativity of the collection of various stories with various characters with various themes and most importantly with various morals that are embedded on a single frame story.

In the end, one can simply conclude that the diversity of the style and structure of the Arabian Nights are its unifying factor towards greatness as a piece of literature.


References

Burton, Richard (September 2003), The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night, Volume 1, Project Gutenberg

Irwin, Robert (2003), The Arabian Nights: A Companion, Tauris Parke Palang-faacks, p. 198, ISBN 1-86064-983-1

The Arabian Nights

Comments

Professor S (author) from Angeles City, Pampanga, PHILIPPINES on May 10, 2019:

That, we would have to find out then. I have never tried counting the number of stories. I have enjoyed reading them but was not paying close attention to the exact number. Perhaps this merits another blog solely for the accuracy of the number of stories and explanation/discussion on not-so-popular ones, in case there be any which most people have not heard or read of from the popular version that most people have access to.

John Welford from Barlestone, Leicestershire on May 10, 2019:

Do we know how many stories are in the most complete canon we have? You say that there are stories within stories, so there might be some disagreement over what counts as a story. It would not surprise me if the number is a long way short of 1001 - the same is true of collections such as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, which is nowhere near the originally intended length!

Professor S (author) from Angeles City, Pampanga, PHILIPPINES on May 10, 2019:

Wow! That is the first time I have heard about such. Perhaps there is really a 'dark' side to this similar to what Jodah had written about nursery rhymes.

Thanks for this information.

Professor S (author) from Angeles City, Pampanga, PHILIPPINES on May 10, 2019:

Wow! That is the first time I have heard about such. Perhaps there is really a 'dark' side to this similar to what Jodah had written about nursery rhymes.

Thanks for this information.

Dean Traylor from Southern California/Spokane, Washington (long story) on May 10, 2019:

John, there's a legend about that. It was believed that if someone actually read all the stories, they'd die. I suspect that many translations and printings,don't have the complete volume of tales because of this.

Professor S (author) from Angeles City, Pampanga, PHILIPPINES on May 10, 2019:

Great point...oh well...I wish I have done so but the story would end following the double digit count, I guess.

Thanks for the comment.

John Welford from Barlestone, Leicestershire on May 10, 2019:

Has anybody actually counted the stories to check if there really are 1001?