Gender and Power in The Arabian Nights
Works Cited Not Included
Contemplating the relationship between gender and power, one undoubtedly notices that tradition regards men as the holders of official office and power. Historically, men have also always been the leaders of their families, and turned to in times of trouble or need. Making generalizations is normally a weak approach to any task; in this case however, it is necessary to do so in order to illustrate how drastically opposite the situations prove in various selections from "1001 Arabian Nights." Rather than men taking critical roles of power, the women characters, especially at crucial moments in the plot, empower themselves far beyond the male figures, and, consequently, prove much more important to their respective plots. The stories offer a different perspective on the gender-power relationship and, consequently, ask readers to reconsider their notions of the traditional relationship between gender and power.
In "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp", Aladdin's character is that of a lazy vagabond lacking motivation to pursue anything in life. In fact, Aladdin's idleness is so grave that he causes his own father's death. The gender-power relationship is introduced almost immediately with Aladdin's father's death; because of the death, Aladdin's mother is forced to provide for the family and care for her only child. Traditionally, the father in a family has been the one to work, while the mother cared for the children. Thus, Aladdin's mother is empowered almost immediately in the story as she is forced to take on both the role of matriarch and patriarch. Aladdin's mother is again empowered by her desire to help her pathetically useless son. Aladdin, who "fell helplessly in love" (160) with the Sultan's daughter, desires nothing more than to marry her, a feat almost impossible for a man of his lowliness. Even Aladdin's mother criticizes him for his ridiculous desire, "My child, may Allah protect you! It seems you've lost your head!" However, as a loving mother she tells him, "my greatest desire is for you to marry", and with that makes the boldest decision of the story: to approach the Sultan to request his daughter's hand in marriage for Aladdin. The move, an unprecedented one, highlights beautifully the incredible composure and boldness of Aladdin's mother. Even she questions, ."..how can I be so bold as to ask for the daughter of the Sultan of China...?" (164) In an ironic role reversal, Aladdin's mother suddenly becomes empowered enough to carry out such a bold action. Through her ability to approach the sultan to ask the most audacious of questions, Aladdin's mother refutes classic notions of the power-gender relationship. The decision to approach the sultan would have been valiant in itself for even the most courageous man; the fact that a woman did this exemplifies the empowerment of women in "1001 Arabian Nights" and spurs doubt surrounding the classic idea that men are more...