"For the translator, who stands astride two cultures, possesses two different sensibilities, and assumes a double identity" —Husain Haddawy
Magic, love, sex, war, gods, spells. These are all common ingredients in the folktales of almost every culture. Many people say that folktales are windows to cultures. That might be so. Often readers do not realize, though, that folktales also reflect aspects of the collectors. Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men and Husain Haddawy’s The Arabian Nights, in addition to offering insight into southern African-American culture and Arabic culture, reveal the collectors to the audience; the collectors’ desire to reconcile with their past, to be accepted by their reader as legitimate representatives of that culture whether by being an insider or both insider and outsider to the culture, and to be heroic cultural interpreters with the goal of educating and informing the reader.
There are many reasons and motivations behind Hurston’s compilation of African-American folktales, but one that is often overlooked is her personal need to reconcile her intellectual, White, Barnard-educated life with her traditional roots in Eatonville, Florida. In her introduction Hurston writes:
From the earliest rocking of my cradle, I had known about the capers Brer Rabbit is apt to cut and what the Squinch Owl says from the house top. But it was fitting me like a tight chemise. I couldn’t see it for wearing it. It was only when I was off in college, away from my native surroundings, that I could see myself like somebody else and stand off and look at my garment. Then ...
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...nd the present culture of the audience, which they intended to reach. Haddawy and Hurston sought acceptance from the reader and thus emphasized the legitimacy of their works whether by establishing themselves as an insider or as both an insider and outsider to their respective cultures. Moreover, by proving the ‘superior’ authenticity of their works in comparison to previous works, they offer themselves as ‘heroes,’bringing forth insights of the culture of their youth to the reader. Indeed, The Arabian Nights and Mules and Men are not only collections of magical folktales: They reveal the inner conflicts, desires and dreams of the translator and collector themselves.
1) Zora Neale Hurston, Mules and Men (New York: Harper Perennial, 1990).
2) Husain Haddawy, The Arabian Nights, trans. Husain Haddawy, ed. Muhsin Mahdi (New York: Norton, 1990).
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