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The Dark Side of Agrabah: Why the Story of Aladdin Rubs Some the Wrong Way

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The Dark Side of Agrabah: Why The Story of Aladdin Rubs Some The Wrong Way

Beginning in 1812, Americans from all over the east coast decided that the time was right to travel and begin life anew in the west. They gathered their families, assembled their possessions and loaded their caravans in order to set off to their “Manifest Destinies.” Through trials and tribulations, these groundbreaking Americans settled the west to establish better homes for themselves and for their families. Similar to these individuals, over time, millions of people have “picked up the hammer,” worked and struggled to improve the quality of life for themselves and the people they cherished. However, the blood, sweat and tears that exuded from these determined individuals have been undermined by seemingly innocuous fairy tales; stories that continue to teach bad lessons to youth today.

One fairy tale that millions of children have heard of and subsequently have gleaned lessons from is Aladdin, a tale about a young boy who against all odds, escapes poverty by finding a genie and eventually marries a beautiful princess. However, what seems like an innocent story that promotes clichés like “watch what you wish for” and “don’t judge a book by its cover” actually has a far more sinister and appalling message. Aladdin is not a boyhood role model and the princess is not an innocent girl searching for love. Rather, both of these individuals and the story of Aladdin as a whole are the personifications of life lessons and attitudes that would be considered deplorable to any person who frowns upon stereotypes and considers hard work to be a virtue.

Although most people associate the name Aladdin with the 1992 feature film produced by Disney Studios, this movie is actually based on a short story entitled “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp” first authored by Antoine Galland in the book The Thousand and One Nights . This story, with the myriad of bad lessons that fill its pages, casts a wholly positive light around lamentable lifestyles filled with laziness and inactivity.

Aladdin is introduced as young boy with no ambition who does nothing all day but sit at home. However, everything changes when Aladdin meets a magician who claims to be his uncle. This nefarious fellow coerces Aladdin into freeing a magic lamp and ring from a magic cave. The plan fails however as Aladdin does not give the magician the lamp and soon discovers that present in both the ring and the lamp are genies that can grant his every wish. The lamp genie sustains Aladdin and his mother for several years until Aladdin catches a glimpse of a Princess and decides he must marry her. Despite the sultan’s agreeing to the proposal on behalf of his daughter, the princess marries someone else. Distraught, Aladdin decides he must wreak havoc on the princess’s marriage and the couple eventually gets divorced. Trying to impress the sultan once more, Aladdin demands that the genie build a magnificent castle, a castle so grandiose that after viewing it, the sultan again agrees to allow Aladdin the right to marry the princess. However, the magician finds out about Aladdin’s good fortune and eventually tricks the princess into selling him the magic lamp. With his new power, the magician transports the castle and the princess to his home in Africa. Not knowing how to get the castle and his wife back, Aladdin eventually rubs the magic ring whose genie transports him to the castle where he kills the magician once and for all. Later the sultan dies and Aladdin becomes the new king.

To the billions of hardworking people that populate the earth, especially ones with more religious ties, the biggest problem with the “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp” is how it teaches the unfortunate lesson that one should “just pray to God” without accounting for an individual’s obligation to “hard work.” Bruno Bettelheim, an Austrian writer and child psychologists insists that “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp” as well as many other short stories from the collection The Thousand and One Nights, has some clear and some not as clear references to the Islamic Religion . However, it is clear that these religious references oftentimes convey messages that religious people do not condone. From the very first time that Aladdin’s mother finds the lamp, the story begins to promote an insidious message into the minds of the innocent and impressionable children reading the book. Aladdin’s poor mother needs money and she asks Aladdin to go sell some cotton that she had spun. However, instead of selling the cotton, Aladdin insists that they just ask the genie for food and viola, “twelve silver plates containing rich meat, two silver cups and two bottles of wine ” magically appear before them. Neither Aladdin nor his mother need to work to make money, rather, they simply ask the genie to give them the food they desire and they no longer have any further responsibilities.

This horrendous message is seen in its clearest form when Aladdin is first faced with a life death situation, namely his entrapment in a cave. The reader is told that Aladdin gets trapped in the cave but instead of trying to free himself for two full days he ”remained in the dark cave, crying and lamenting.” Although Aladdin knows that if he cannot free himself his demise is inevitable, he does not attempt to find an exit nor does he attempt to dig away at the cave wall. Rather, he sees himself as trapped so he sits and cries while unbeknownst to him, the only thing truly trapping him is he inability to put one foot in front of the next, specifically his stubborn belief that fate is what controls his life. However, Aladdin does not die of starvation or of an attack by a ferocious beast that undoubtedly populated the cave. After two days of suffering Aladdin “clasped his hands in prayer ” and presto, a genie appears, ready to save Aladdin and bring him out of the cave. The message is clear to any reader of this book; Aladdin didn’t need to suffer for two whole days, all he needed to do was pray and he would have been freed immediately. Hard work and determination are not what sets a man free; solely praying to God with no effort on one’s own side will do the trick.

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