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WendiLawsonSee_CriticalPaper1 - Wendi Lawson See EN323...

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Wendi Lawson See EN323 Middle Eastern Literature Spring 2008 Critical Essay #1 Naguib Mahfouz may be considered a literary hero. To some, he is said to have invented the modern Arab novel. Certainly, his work drew appreciation even in non- Islamic circles, as he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988—the first Arab writer to do so. It is generally agreed that he is one of very few Arabic writers to devote considerable time and effort to the subject of existentialism. However, he also was no stranger to controversy. He often creatively weaved his own political viewpoint into his narratives. His support for Salman Rushdie lead to a 1994 assassination attempt when a Muslim fundamentalist heeding a fatwa call stabbed Mahfouz in the neck. He survived and was a grand old 94 when he died in August of 2007. Arabian Nights and Days is a clever retelling of several tales from the collection known as either as “The Thousand and One Nights” or “Arabian Nights”. The original tales were mostly independent of each other, but Mahfouz masterfully manipulated them to create a continuing narrative, keeping with the popular Arabic technique of hiding a story within a story. While the original featured fascinating characters whose stories, once told, disappear from the chronicle, Mahfouz’s characters are woven throughout the entire book, changing as they meet up with new characters as needed for the tale. Additionally, while the original’s point of view was either first or third person, Mahfouz employs a narrator for his novel. Arabian Nights and Days is set in the same town where the original “Nights” took place. The original tales were supposedly created by Queen Shahrazad in order to preserve her life. Her husband, the Sultan Shahriyar, has a murderous past in which he would marry a new virgin each day and after the consummation at night, have his bride executed at daylight. The Queen in the original tales told her “stories” to her husband nightly, consistently leaving the ending untold so that he would spare her life in the morning, so as to continue the tale the following night. Herein lies one of the main differences between Mahfouz’s narrative and the original “Nights”: while the original centered mainly on the development of stories by the Queen in order to prolong her life,
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Mahfouz makes the pricking of the Sultan’s conscience the background thread of the novel. Mahfouz begins his novel where Shahrazad left off. The first chapter opens with the Sultan advising his vizier Dandan, who also is Shahrazad’s father, that although she has finally run out of stories, she has given birth to a son so he is going to spare her life and allow her to remain the Queen. This opening also introduces the main theme of the book—that the Sultan is profoundly unhappy when remembering his dreadful past and is lost as to how to atone for his sins.
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