College of Liberal Arts

Department of English


Matthew Pangborn

"The Arabian Romance of America
in Poe's 'Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade'"

This article engages recent readings of an orientalist or “Islamicist” discourse or presence in American literature by tracing Poe’s exploration, in “The Thousand-and-Second Tale of Scheherazade,” of the importance of the classic Eastern text The Arabian Nights to his readers’ conception of themselves as citizens of a modern and progressive West. The Nights was not merely a text whose popularity among an American readership had from colonial times rivaled that of Robinson Crusoe or even the Bible. It also functioned as a touchstone within period debates about U.S. cultural standing. In Poe’s time especially, Americans referenced the Nights to express their concerns over the nation’s seeming to occupy an unsteady conceptual middle ground between a Western European ideal of civilization and a dangerous, oriental otherness of violence and economic speculation. Poe’s parodic epilogue to the Eastern classic subverts his audience’s expectation of a comforting moral, however, to deliver instead a challenging new interpretation of that familiar “romance” of American history. Through his use of an orientalist discourse, Poe portrays a nation haunted by its past—and continuing—conquests but one also fearful of a seemingly uncontrollable current of history that threatens to lead it to its “doom.”







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