Otherness in De Navarre's "Heptameron" and "A Thousand and One Nights"

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Otherness in Literary Works

Otherness is a typical literary representation of peculiarity in the characters and themes of the works of art. In A Thousand and One Nights and Heptameron, the authors have worked stylistically by using storytelling to produce otherness in the two works. The books address patriarchy, one dominant theme of the time, encompassed by infidelity among the royalty. In order to capture the audience through the telling of their narrative, the authors use storytelling a technique that seeks the audience’s participation in the narration of the story. The books thus achieve otherness not in the use of the style itself but in the presentation of the characters that directly contrast in one theme common in the stories.

Otherness as Revealed by Storytelling

Firstly, A Thousand and One Nights uses storytelling to reveal otherness in the woman character that goes against the odds to sooth and tame the king not to kill her unlike the other virgins before her whom the king had killed. In The Tale of King Shahrya-r and of his Brother, King Shahzama-n, the author introduces the genesis of the king’s vengeance. The wife he loves so much betrays their matrimonial bed by going to bed with his brother. In this tale, the king gets hurt and begins to seduce and kill young virgins in the vengeance for his disappointment. The story tries to depict loose women as presented by the king’s wife. Contrary, this otherness is sugarcoated in the character of Scheherazade, the narrator, who shows bravery to marry the king in the climax of this vengeance. The character depiction of Scheherazade completely shows otherness not prone with women characters not only in the book but also in most literary works of the time. She is able to employ her knowledge and wit to narrate endless stories that sooths the king so that he forgets to kill her. In addition, the author once again employs storytelling as the father narrates The Fable of the Ass, the Bull, and the Husbandman to give a strong moral lesson to Scheherazade even as she makes up her mind to join the cruel king.

“KNOW, my daughter, that there was once a merchant, master of riches and cattle, married and the father of children; to whom Allah had also given understanding of the tongues of beasts and birds. The place of this merchant’s house was in a fertile land on the bank of a river, and in his farm there were an ass and a bull….” (Mardrus and Mathers 6)

Again, De Navarre depicts otherness in the narration of her 72 stories, which all portray one dominant theme, infidelity. Actually, this theme is the epitome of both the A Thousand and One Nights and

Heptameron. Although they are told at different historical times, the authors apply storytelling to underscore infidelity among the royalties. De Navarre uses a female character that dates two men to satisfy both her pleasure and profit in The Heptameron of the Queen of Navarre. This kind of depiction is uncommon since polygamy and not polyandry is the mostly accepted act among sexualities. The woman of Alencon is capable of deceiving two different men she cherishes for different reasons. “…The poor young man did so, but on his arrival the servant woman, who usually let him in, met him and said, ‘Go elsewhere, my friend; for your place is filled.’ Du Mesnil supposing that the husband had returned asked the servant how all was going on. Seeing before her a handsome, well-bred young man, the girl could not help pitying him to think how much he loved, and how little he was loved...” (De Navarre 45)

In selecting this female portrayal, the author brings commonness in the vices of male and female gender so that the society may not judge one gender against the other for a vice is a vice regardless of the gender who commits it. In addition, the writer shows women can use deception to revenge their place in the society and the perception put upon them by the authoritarian men folk. Somehow, the writer communicates that the women have a certain power with which they can overpower the men folk who perceives them as objects.


The writers of these stories have used storytelling to embed culture and tradition of oral literature in the telling of written stories. The technique helps the narrators to capture the audience as they reveal otherness in the telling of the narration itself. For example, while King Shahryar kills the young women innocently as he engages with multiple partners for revenge in A Thousand and One Night, the woman of Alencon takes the same unexpected behavior to have multiple partners although she does not kill them as the king does. This mere contrast shows otherness in the level of vengeance in both the female and male characters. It also shows commonness in the vices that the genders are capable of committing.

Works Cited

Mardrus, Joseph Charles, and Edward Powys Mathers. The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night (Vol 2). Routledge, 2003: 1-550

Marguerite de Navarre. Heptaméron (vol 2): 1-333

November 24, 2023



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