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Abstract

Throughout the narrative of the Hunchback’s Tale within the Thousand and One Nights, the hunchback is always at the center of the action, yet with the exception of the first time he is “killed,” he is never written as the reader’s focus, except in instances of violence performed against the hunchback’s body. The reader’s gaze is constantly drawn to the killer, rather than the victim, and led to laugh at or empathize with the killers of the hunchbacked corpse, rather than the deformed, ever-abused body. Neither the champion nor the foil, the body of the hunchback functions merely as the catalyst, moving the story forward. Yet throughout the tale, the reader catches glimpses of him among and between the figures looming large over the scene, crouching over, abusing, and concealing the broken form of his small inciting body. As the reader struggles to catch sight of the hunchback, she also endeavors to determine the motive for his “killing” in the first place.

Because it follows the major components of folktale trope AT 1537 (The Corpse Killed Five Times), there is a temptation to read Shahrazād’s hunchback as being the victim of a sexually-motivated (initial) killing. This temptation only exists, though, because the AT 1537 trope often involves an illicit affair between the murder victim and the killer’s wife. Because the cultural context of the stories will not allow the possibility of the first “killing” of the hunchback to be retaliatory in nature due to some illicit, unseen affair or due to the suspicion of such, we are left to find an alternative motive for the initial bout of violence performed on the hunchback. Considering how the medieval hunchback was conceived within the Islamic east, it is safe to say that the choice to make the many-times-killed corpse that of a hunchback was not arbitrary. Indeed, this particular deformed body and its “death” cannot be unrelated. Somatic violence, as I have chosen to define the concept, seems the most logical given the evidence at hand.