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Invitation to World Literature

The Thousand and One Nights The Thousand and One Nights – Key Points

Key Teaching Points and Discussion Prompts


  1. What do you think is at the heart of Shahrayar’s madness? Are we supposed to share his outrage at his wife’s infidelity or not? Does the story seem to accept the king’s absolute power or question it?
  2. Which type of character is more interesting to you, the human or the supernatural?
  3. What is Shahrazad like? How does she compare to the women in the stories she tells? Does Shahrazad get involved in the stories she tells, as an active narrator? If not, why not?
  4. What social classes do most of the human characters in the stories come from?

Plot Actions

  1. Why does the Porter end up in danger of losing his life? How does he escape?
  2. How does each night’s storytelling end? How does Shahrazad ensure that she will live another day?
  3. What is the role of chance in the stories? How do humans shape their own destiny or fail to do so?
  4. Often events are doubled or tripled, as with the three half-blind princes in the story of the Porter. What are the uses of repetition and variation in the stories?

Discussion Prompts to Encourage Critical Thinking

  1. What do the stories tell you about the 9th-century Abbasid attitude toward life, death, and God?
  2. Are the stories pure adventure, moral stories, fables, fantasies, a mix of all these, or something else?
  3. What roles do women play in the stories? What percentage of the stories are about women? How do they differ, if at all, from stories about men?
  4. A notable feature of The Thousand and One Nights is that stories are often nested inside other stories, starting as early as within the opening frame tale. How do the nested stories relate, working together or against each other?
  5. What is the literary structure of most of the stories? What kind of language do they use—colloquial, high, or both? What is the effect?
  6. How do these stories compare with the modern, more famous Aladdin or Ali Baba stories? How are they different, how are they the same? Which do you prefer?

Series Directory

Invitation to World Literature


Produced by the WGBH Educational Foundation with Seftel Productions. 2010.
  • Closed Captioning
  • ISBN: 1-57680-892-0