Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 422
• In his preface to his translation, Burton promotes the study of the Arabian Nights among the British as a means of understanding the cultures and customs of the Muslim world, which made up a large part of the British Empire at the time. The popularity of Burton’s Arabian Nights translation was due in part to British interest in their ‘‘Oriental’’ colonies. Compare the British attitudes towards the Middle East in the nineteenth century with the policies of the United States and Britain towards that region today. Do you see any similarities? Differences?
• A. S. Byatt writes, ‘‘Collections of tales talk to each other and borrow from each other, motifs glide from culture to culture, century to century.’’ The Arabian Nights, itself a compilation, bears much resemblance to stories and folktales found in cultures around the world. It is also cited as one of the most influential works in English literature. Bearing both these points in mind, can you think of any authors, works of literature, or other folktales that bear a resemblance to The Arabian Nights? Describe these similarities.
• As a nineteenth-century British explorer and anthropologist, Burton showed in his work, life, and philosophies that he was very much a part of the British imperialist system. Much in his writings reveals that he shared the imperial attitude of racial and cultural superiority particularly over non-white and non-Christian races and cultures. Discuss how the British ideology of superiority and progressive empire-building contributed to different forms of racism throughout the world and history.
• The violent treatment of women in The Arabian Nights is a major theme. The killing of women for acts of infidelity is treated as common and seems to be accepted widely. Yet, many female characters in the tales hold positions of authority and rule over the men around them. Research the role of women in fourteenth-century Iraq and Persia. Limit your research, if possible to a particular country. What were some of the positions of authority that women held? Were there women political leaders? Was the violent treatment of women widespread, or was it relegated to particular economic classes?
• In The Arabian Nights social classes of all kinds interact with one another. Prostitutes and thieves socialize with Princes and Kings, and porters party with ladies-in-waiting. Historically, how were Persian economic and social classes structured? Did classes come into contact with one another, or was there greater class separation than the tales indicate? How is Iranian society structured today? Is there a great class distinction, or are classes more democratically structured?
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