Nights notion by the representation of sexuality Thompson story of the slave children Habit and Doll builds up a density of themes, in which the reader immerses himself and for which he often wishes a knife to slice this multi- layered story to bring it into a chronology. It never loses its train of thoughts but still requires the reader to disentangle the story to understand It. The form of the story draws on the tradition of the 1001 Nights Stories, with its frame narrative and the numerous stories within the story.
It takes the reader into a location Arabic fairytale landscape with stories and subplots about (Christian and Islamic) religion but also addresses topic such as social criticism and pollution. One theme which permeates throughout the whole storyline is the bold depiction of sexuality. Thompson portrays a world In which unbreakable patriarchal power relations become visible, which was interpreted by some reviewers as an indictment to the role of the women in the Arabic world.
Being the main source of criticism, some critics commented that the line between a fictive world and an allegedly ‘real’ eviction of the Islamic world is blurred, so that it could be assumed that Thompson tries to illustrate the Arabic world to reveal the abuse of (female) humans. However, as a matter of fact Habit, with regard to the mixture of the thematic and cultural elements, cannot be interpreted as a factual depiction of the real world. Its reference to the main story of the Arabian Nights, the story of Scheherazade, rather poses general questions on the representation of sexuality concomitant with the balance of power this implies.
As sexuality in the Islam is a subject to negotiation and oldies with the approach to it in the Western society, it is easy to see Habit as criticism to the Arabic world. But more than seeing an attempt of enforcing a western view on the reader with regards to this topic, the focus should be the question of how sexuality and being aware of your biological sex can be portrayed in a fairytale landscape and how this cruel depiction of ‘reality’ changes the notion of the romantic view one has on the 1001 Nights Stories.
The character of Doll, one of the protagonists in Habit, is clearly inspired by the description of Scheherazade. On the one hand she is also portrayed as an Intelligent (literate) and beautiful woman. Also, she Serves’ the sultan for a longer amount of time and is representative for the woman, who shall change the sultan’s way to treat women arbitrarily and beneath human dignity. However, Dollars role within the story Is twofold.
Whereas Scheherazade casts a spell over the sultan by telling him stories and thus builds up an emotional relationship to him, Doll solely serves him as object of sexual desire and has the function to satisfy his lust, Both, the emotional relationship and the tortellini, is ‘reserved’ to Cam, whom she faces as mother figure in the beginning and a lover in the end. Connecting this to the original story of Scheherazade, Doll tens Is also representative Tort ten sultan’s welt, won Deterred nil Walt a Alack slave. The role which is assigned to women becomes obvious in the original story.
On the one hand you find the picture of unfaithful women, who devote themselves physically to men and in the end are killed. On the other hand a pure and innocent woman is portrayed, who focuses on the emotional side and succeeds over the ‘animal needs’. However, in Habit the role of women and the kind of behavior which is expected from them is not that clear. Whereas in the original story the women are killed because of being unfaithful, in Habit Doll has no other opportunity than serving as sex slave in order to survive.
Although Doll in the beginning of the story succeeds to escape from the slave market, and finds accommodation in a ship she and Cam discover in the desert, she is dependent on the caravans that are passing by. Due to her lack of material possessions she has no other opportunity to get food room them than by offering her body. So despite her intelligence and the ‘autonomy she has by living far from the civilization she is dependent on a system which is based on physical strength.
The way the men are portrayed show in the end that, even if she had money or other things to offer them, all they see in Doll is an object of sexual desire which they can claim for themselves. This demonstration of power becomes even more obvious with the sultan. Whereas the ‘caravan men’s’ physical appearance makes Doll overtly inferior to them, the sultan neither has tricking physical attributes, except that he is portrayed as overweight and rather small, nor surpasses Doll in intelligence.
But although his figure cannot really be taken seriously he is able to take advantage of his position and forces the women to give themselves up to his desires. And on the basis of the satisfaction of his lust he decides on their living conditions or even more fundamentally, whether they shall live at all. So although he is neither well-provided with intelligence, nor with physical advantages, he is free to abuse women on the basis of his social position (as a man). And in order to survive, women have no other choice than letting themselves be reduced to the mere status of an object and meet his ‘animal needs’.
A complete contrast to that ‘male’ behavior is marked by Cam. With regard to him Dollars torn position becomes obvious once again. On the one hand she serves as a sex slave, who does not see an alternative to survive (both in the desert and in the sultan’s palace) than with sacrificing her body. On the other hand she has a deep emotional relationship to Cam and has an issue with not being pure. Though, not only for her UT also for Cam her treatment by men has a deep impact on the psyche.
Growing up with Doll in a ‘safe’ environment without any contact to the outside world he discovered the physical differences between Doll and him. But when he learns how Doll gets the food and how other male persons take advantage of their position as men, it leaves marks on his self- perception as man. At this time he is still a boy and his emotional relationship to Doll evokes the desire to protect her but also leaves doubts about the expectations of how a man should behave. Unlike the there male characters he doesn’t see women as objects and on no account wants to abuse them by the means of his physical power.
The fact that he is not able to act as society supposedly requires him to be (as a male person) leaves him insecure and with a guilty conscience with regard to his sex and ends in a castration. The only real alternative to break out this cycle of sexual oppression and to cope with the emotions en NAS towards Dolan, as well as ten guilt en reels In place AT all ten men won abused her, seems to be an accession to a group of Hajjis. These people cut homeless completely off from their biological sex and reject their masculinity.
For the one thing these characters are a link to the Indian origins of the 1001 Nights Stories, for another thing Thompson addresses a current topic in south Asian countries like India, where the perception of women still is very problematic and furthermore questions on gender identity, especially if you characterize yourself neither as male nor as female, are unimaginable (although this ‘3rd sex’ does exist and plays a significant role in the Indian society). Still, the problems which may arise while becoming aware of the own gender and the expectations which are linked to it are illustrated by Cam’ s transformation.
But even when he changed the physical appearance, the nightmares and inability to cope with his ‘guilt’ remain. He only puts himself in the role of a victim by being a woman. Although this helps him to enter the palace where Doll is kept and rescue her in the end, he sacrifices a part of himself, of his identity, to reject social conventions portrayed in this world. The close relation to the Arabic world and the obvious references to the Islam put the criticism across hat this novel sometimes is understood as bold and simple depiction of the Arabic society.
Still the places in which Doll and Cam live also have references to biblical stories and thus are not only a depiction of the Arabic world. Although the palace, the sultan and the harem evoke Islamic connotations (but is partially also reminiscent of the Garden of Eden), the desert and the ship in which they live in the beginning are rather connected to Nosh’s arch. Both places should be a safe environment and are drawn as idyllic places in the beginning. And both places end up as being settings or ‘indispensable rapes’ for Dollars (and Cam’s) survival.
The conclusion one can draw from this is rather that the more unspoiled and paradisiacal the places appear in the beginning, the crueler people are being treated there. This becomes especially obvious when comparing these settings to the environment Doll and Cam live in towards the end of the novel. This filthy surrounding has a complete lack of the romantic illusion the reader connects to the other places and illustrates many other social evils, however interpersonally it gives the two protagonist the opportunity to eve together peacefully.
This multiplicity of social problems and the ambiguity to assign the oppression and sexual abuse of women solely to the Islamic world thus do not leave enough room for the reviewers to criticism the depiction of the position of women in one society. But although the novel should not be understood as an assault to the Islamic society due to the gender related deficiencies, the reader is somehow dumbfounded. The undeniable connection to the 1001 Nights Story on the one hand and the depiction of the patriarchal power relations on the basis of sexual buses on the other hand leaves a dull aftertaste to the reader.