1. When he catches his wife sleeping with “the help”, Shahrayar loses his mind and kills her. I’m sure anyone who’s been cheated on in a relationship has felt like this – maybe not to the point of pulling out a sword, but certainly hoping the other party maybe “accidently” trips and falls in front of a bus. And the anger with all women, at least for Shahrayar, came when he witnessed his sister-in-law cheating on his brother with yet another servant, and again when the brothers stumble upon an unfaithful demon’s wife. In the Middle East, where this story originates from, males are regarded as the strongest and smartest. To have a woman do what she wants when her husband isn’t around is like saying that he doesn’t have his wife under control, and if he can’t even control his own wife, what else can’t he control? The ego and reputation take a huge beating. I don’t think it’s the male ego that’s necessarily frail in the culture, but the fear of loss of control.
2. As the Vizir uses The Tale of the Ox and the Donkey (and its sequel The Merchant and His Wife), to try to dissuade his daughter from marrying the King, the animals in his tales have human-like thinking characteristics and are pretty demeaning towards women. None of the analogies in his stories fit Shahrazad’s situation though, so she ignores her father and marries the King anyway. The animals in her first tale to the King, the Tale of the Merchant and the Demon, were once unworthy people and are merely animals with no special attributes. The demon looks like a metaphor for the King though; like the King – who’s murdered every virgin bride he married the morning after their wedding – the demon seems to have no compassion for the merchant. The merchant (read: women) has wronged him, and so must be punished, regardless of the lack of guilt.
3. I don’t know if the punishments in Dante’s Inferno were appropriate or not, but he certainly must have struck fear into the hearts of the people reading his words back then. I have to admit, some of the punishments left me a little confused (I really don’t understand how turning into a tree for eternity is a punishment for sucide), but others did make a little more sense. The Sowers of Scandal and Schism had to walk in circles with woulds that opened and closed repeatedly; psychologicaly, starting rumors and passing along gossip could be like that for the victim.