Arabian Nights: The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot


The Arabian Nights have always been viewed as the staple of the Arabian folklore and a source of wisdom on which the Arabian philosophy is based. However, apart from addressing the general notions of justice and the battle between the good and evil, the collection of tales also examines the notions of interpersonal relationships and the problem of the human psyche. By delving into the changes that the characters of The Arabian Nights and the characters in the stories within the book face, the narrator dissects the problems of power imbalance. Additionally, the story addresses the madness of those at the helm of the power structure, and the challenges to which potential victims of the described hierarchy need to adapt in order to survive. The observed parallels between the story of Scheherazade and the women in her tales, as well as Shahryar and the men in these narratives, are especially visible in “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot.” Mirroring the problems of anger, fear of social scorn, and emotional problems that the story of Shahryar contains, “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot” delicately points to possible solutions, which imply an open dialogue, mercifulness, and trust.

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Female Identity in the Narrative

The tales told by Scheherazade lose a substantial amount of subtext when being considered outside of the context of the narrator’s storyline. The parallels between the challenges that Scheherazade faces and the dangers that female protagonists of her stories have to face are evident. Thus, the female identity in the narrative is represented by a dual image of the women that are supposed to mirror Scheherazade’s life and Scheherazade herself.

The duality of the female identity is also represented in the roles that the participants of the stories play. These roles are typically simplified by the juxtaposition of “good” and “bad” female characters, as Clinton explains. Each of the types is notably self-sufficient since not all of the stories feature both types in their narrative. For example, “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot” as a part of “The Tale of the Merchant and the Demon” introduces the character of a cheating wife, which is expected to be viewed as “bad” in Clinton’s interpretation. The woman in the story is opposed to Scheherazade, the latter being implied as the missing “good” female role model.

However, the female identity in both stories is much more complex than simply a combination of qualities that are deemed as either morally upright or highly questionable. For instance, both the nameless character in Scheherazade’s story and Scheherazade herself possess the qualities such as cunning and resourcefulness, which unifies the two to create a general concept of the female identity.

Behaviors of Characters in the Context of Scheherazade’s Situation

In line with the situation in which Scheherazade finds herself, the characters in her narrative use their cunning and wit, which stands in stark contrast to the display of brutal force which male characters show. The focus on the female community as the source of strength for protagonists is another phenomenon that connects the story of the lead character in “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot” and the one of Scheherazade. The Arabian Nights is famous for the cliffhangers with the help of which Scheherazade manages to survive. As the narrative approaches another plot point, one of Shahryar’s wives usually punctuates the end of the storyline and the beginning of a new tale: “Then her sister Dinarzad said, ‘What a lovely story!’” (The Arabian Nights 42). In “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot,” the rest of the female characters play a much more functional role by creating a shield and blocking the vision of the parrot. Therefore, the behavior of the female characters in the narrative mirrors the ones of Scheherazade’s own story.

In a similar vein, the behavior of the shah from “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot” reflects the moral and emotional stance of Shahryar. Similarly to the husband who decides to kill the bird that turns out to be innocent in the end, Shahryar dooms women that have done nothing wrong to death after his previous wife turned out to be cheating. The described attitude aligns with the perception of a husband whose wife has cheated on him to be viewed as a person to be mocked and laughed at rather than to be sympathized with and seen as a victim.

Consequently, social perceptions of gender roles define the choices of Shahryar, making him seen as laughable and, thus, fueling his desire to take his anger out on innocent people. Granted that there are nuances to these relationships that are defined by the specifics of the culture in question, The Arabian Nights still distinctively points to the problem of power imbalance in these relationships. According to Clinton, “The psychological realities of the tales in One Thousand and One Nights form an essential dimension both of their appeal and of the narrative unity into which they have been formed” (499). In the described context, “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot” mirrors the characters of The Arabian Nights fully and allows exploring the problematic issue of gender relationships.

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Lessons That Shahryar Learns

Shahryar is expected to learn a wide range of lessons during the story. The concept of mercy, as well as the problem of a judgmental attitude, becomes evident as the reveal of the story takes place. Following the tragic death of an innocent creature, the discovery of the wife’s cheating proves that the issue of miscommunication, as well as the desire to resolve conflicts under the spur of emotions rather than using reasoning and logic, leads to dire consequences. The described observation becomes apparent at one of the critical points of the story, when the narrator states explicitly that the king “was full of regret that he had been tricked by his wife to kill the parrot” (The Arabian Nights 42). The transformation of Shahryar’s opinion is reflected in Clinton’s discourse, where he points out that Shahryar’s madness indicates the presence of “a deep-seated fear of and rage against” women (491).

The madness of Shahryar as one of the central themes in the entire narrative of The Arabian Nights becomes a central theme in “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot.” Representing a sharp contrast to the world in which Shahryar and Scheherazade exist, the inability of the shah to use reasoning and control his emotions remains the root of the problems in the key conflict of the collection of tales. Nowhere is the described issue as evident as in “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot,” in which the emotions of the husband remind the reader of the ones that characterize Shahryar. Viewing their wives as their possessions and rejecting the idea of establishing an emotional contact and a dialogue with them, both Shahryar and the husband in the tale resort to violence and strive to take complete control of their wives.

The dichotomy of the female characters in the tale is also a noteworthy aspect of the tale, which falls into a wider narrative of The Arabian Nights in general, as Clinton explains. According to the latter, “Women clearly come in at least two kinds, good and evil. Both kinds have great power that Shahryar fears” (Clinton 496). On the surface, in “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot,” each type is present, the evil one being depicted in the form of the cheating wife, whereas the “good” type is represented by Scheherazade. However, inspecting the tale closer, one will realize that the female character in the tale is also portrayed as sympathetic. Even given the fact that the wife in the tale cheats on her husband, there is a distinct imbalance of power in the narrative, of which the relationship between the husband and the wife testifies evidently.

Similarly to other stories, the power that women in the narrative possess comes mostly from their wit and resourcefulness. The fact that Scheherazade is the first woman to change the tides of Shahryar’s merciless attitude and introduce him to the idea of compassion and empathy indicates that the tendency to objectify women shown by Shahryar is expected to dissolve. Originally being a man that has “grown up entirely in a context that gives women no importance,” Shahryar changes as Scheherazade introduces him to the idea of a different power balance in gender relationships by creating the narratives that mirror their power dynamics (Clinton 491). Whether the described change allows addressing Shahryar’s madness remains debatable, yet there is no doubt that the power balance gradually shifts as Scheherazade challenges Shahryar’s perception of gender relationships. The phenomenon of unity and camaraderie as the power that allows women to survive in the hostile setting of power imbalance is also addressed in the tale extensively.

Finally, the parrot that tragically dies in the middle of the story can also be seen as a symbol of miscommunication, imbalanced power play, and the ubiquitous sense of injustice in the stories. Although the death of the parrot may read as the result of the wife deceiving the bird and, therefore, her husband, it also represents the voice of the truth being stifled by the dismissive attitude of the husband. The described scenario and the observed meaning parallels the relationship between Scheherazade and Shahryar.

The notions of pride and honor, as well as the perceived threat to them, which a cheating wife ostensibly causes, are also evident in “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot.” The observed concept parallels the story of Shahryar and the reason for Scheherazade to continue her endless vignette of tales since, in both cases, husbands see violence toward their wives as the sole tool for controlling their status and retaining their honor. As a result, both Shahryar and the husband in Scheherazade’s tale are seen scary and merciless, whereas female characters remain sympathetic and easily relatable.

The resolution of the described dilemma comes in the form of forgiveness as the driving force behind rebuilding relationships between a husband and a wife both in Scheherazade’s personal story and the one that she creates. The change in the dynamics of these relationships is emphasized profusely in most stories, as Clinton explains. For instance, there is juxtaposition between an evil and a good man in one of the tales, as Clinton clarifies: “The good brother would forgive his evil siblings completely despite the grossness of their crime” (497). Thus, the resolution of “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot” hints at the importance of forgiveness and mercy as the cornerstone in building trust between a husband and a wife. The described theme mirrors the situation in which Scheherazade is trapped and which was created by Shahryar’s bruised ego. Similarly to the husband in the tale, Shahryar is incapable of embracing the idea of communication and cannot handle the threat to his manhood, which he sees unfaithfulness as. However, in contrast to the tale told by Scheherazade, which represents a clear dichotomy of good and evil, the reality of the relationship dynamics between Shahryar and her is slightly different, as the narrative hints.

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Due to the similarities between the story of Scheherazade and the plot lines of her narratives, the tales that she tells, and especially “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot,” allow teaching crucial lessons about the problem of gender-related power structures, the source of toxicity in relationships, and the necessity to compromise. It is noteworthy that, unlike in Clinton’s argument, where every piece of the argument falls precisely in its place, the logical links between the plotline of Shahryar and the one of the “The Tale of Husband and the Parrot” do not match fully. However, the incongruences between the two stories only confirm the point that Clinton makes. The general tendency for the two stories to overlap despite minor differences in the plot and relationships between the characters only proves that there is a common thread that the story of Scheherazade and Shahryar shares with “The Tale of the Husband and the Parrot.”

Works Cited

Clinton, Jerome W. “Madness and Cure in the 1001 Nights.” Fairy Tales and Society: Illusion, Allusion, and Paradigm, edited by Ruth B. Bottigheimer, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014, pp. 485-499.

The Arabian Nights. Translated by Husain Haddaway, W. W. Norton & Company, 2009.

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