The Wrath & the Dawn
In a faraway land, during 1830-1962, France colonized Algeria. Throughout that period, French entrepreneurs created numerous postcards of Algerian women. This example shows how Arab women have been exoticized for the pleasure of the European male. This concept of the West portraying the East based on their fantasies that emphasize, exaggerate and distort differences of Arab peoples, Said called it Orientalism (What is Orientalism?). Two exploratory studies in the US show that narrative persuasion can diminish the stigma attached to social and cultural groups (Tamul, Hotter, 2019). Based on a novel by Renée Ahdieh, which is based on Arabian Nights, and art created bySilvesterVitale, the “The Wrath & the Dawn” series is a perfect example of a good representation of an Eastern dark-skinned powerful woman, where the narrative is stripped by the orientalist views created by the West. Through the narrative portraying Shahrazad as the main character via her being a character in her own stories, her character design, and the generalization of human tendencies in The Wrath & the Dawn, the authors reclaim their cultural identity and strong female representation.
Arabian Nights is a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled during the Islamic golden age, when the period of paper use spread from China into the Muslim regions. Paper spread to Europe in the 10th century, together with Arabian Nights (McLean). Today, mostly everything we read is digitalized and visualized. The Webtoons platform was first launched in South Korea in 2004 and globally in 2014 (Naver Webtoon). What makes Webtoon different from other platforms is that everyone can post their creations for free. Webtoon also created a Profit Page Share program as a compensation program that allows artists to get a larger profit through advertisements (Reid, 2019). Thus, artists own their own stories and profits and are not affected by the company. This has led to beautiful statistics, wherein in 2016, 42% of the webtoon creators on LINE Webtoon and 50% of its 6 million active daily readers were female (MacDonald, 2016). Webtoon has flourished with the Korean wave, which has recently surged in popularity with the global recognition of Korean musicians and artists. The movie “Parasyte” became the first non-English film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, and K-pop is making marks in history books through BTS (Ji-hoon, 2020). These circumstances have created a healthy environment for artists to use stories to reclaim their cultural identities. One of them is “The Wrath & the Dawn.”1 “One hundred lives for the one you took. One life to one dawn. Should you fail but a single morn, I shall take from you your dreams. I shall take from you your city.
And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold.” (The Wrath & the Dawn)
Character in her own stories
The first hint we get that Shahrazad is the main character in the Webtoon is our first encounter with her. We get to meet Khalid, the king, from the words of others, whereas we meet Shahrazad when she shares her annoyance about wearing a necklace Khalid has sent her as a present.
The first time Khalid makes an appearance
We see her individuality and realize she is not the stereotypical woman orientalists picture in their writings. Shahrazad volunteers to become Khalid's wife to avenge her best friend's death, Shiva (she was one of the women Khalid had to marry and kill the next dawn). The story circulates on Shahrazad's revenge, not the king's as in the original text of "Arabian Nights." In the book, the king's silence is Shahrazad's weakness since she is not in control of her storytelling due to the urgency to satisfy the king's curiosity. However, in the Webtoon, Khalid's silence is a form of respect and power given to her since women are not usually taken seriously and as logical beings in the eyes of the male lens. Khalid engages in the story instead of just listening; he asks questions to which Shahrazad replies with logical arguments.
Shahrazad's stories mirror the main plot to strengthen the idea trying to be communicated to the audience. She creates her own stories about the events that happen to her for each day she survives. Shahrazad connects her reality with the one from her night tales when she asks Khalid to duplicate the story of the princess who roamed the city in regular clothes.
Another persuasion method used by the author is the surprise of Shahrazad facing her death one dawn and her reaction to the event. Khalid’s story changed Shahrazad’s mind for revenge. These
characteristics of the narrative show the audience a strong female lead.
Shahrazad character design
The details given to Shahrazad’s clothes show the attention and work devoted to her character, which argues for her role as the main character. This devotion is not shown to other characters. Shahrazad changes her clothes twice an episode, with a different wardrobe.
In contrast, Khalid wears mostly the same shade of colors and clothes. Shahrazad’s body language communicates to the audience her individuality, persistence, and confidence. She is also a master archer. Shahrazad’s abundant facial expressions successfully convey her emotional states and train of thought, which are way more nuanced than the two stereotypical women in Arabian Night, where a woman is either seductive or motherly.
Generalization of human tendencies
In the Nights, problematic scenarios were reasoned through the orientalist cultural background lens. The webtoon reasons complicated scenarios through normal human tendencies, gender inequality, and humanized leaders. When Khalid’s mother had an affair and was killed for it, it was reasoned through the psychological reaction of the king having a first wife whom she was always compared to. Thus it was more than just sexual desire that got her killed. Shahrazad tells the story of the Blackbeard, where the wife opens the door, she is especially told not to open it by her husband. Afterward, Khalid and Shahrazad conclude that curiosity is human, not inherently a negative trait of women. The reason behind Khalid’s killings was because he was cursed. If he did not sacrifice a hundred women then all the people in his city would suffer. Khalid was cursed by his late wife's, Ava, father, who committed suicide after a miscarriage while holding a wisterias flower, which symbolizes immortality; hence, her death's everlasting and immortal effects on Khalid.2 3When Khalid explains the story of his wife, he blames himself and the things he lacked (he did not know how to be a ruler or good husband). He did not invest the time necessary to know Ava’s reason for her sadness; thus, he is humanized, not idolized (compared to a God) like in the Nights. The nunaced inferring from The Wrath & the Dawn might be a product of human intellectual and psychological progress during history, where notions such as toxic masculinity, gender inequality and orientalism are identified as social biases and fought.
Reid , C. (2019). Webtoon builds an audience for webcomics. PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved September 25, 2021, from https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/comics/article/81073-web toon-builds-an-audience-for-webcomics.html.
-MacDonald, H. (2016, February 29). LINE Webtoon: Readership is 50% female. The Beat. Retrieved September 25, 2021, from https://www.comicsbeat.com/line-webtoon-readership-is-50-female/.
jihoon, park. (2020). [Sponsored report] Naver Webtoon riding high on the Korean Wave. Korea joongAng Daily. Retrieved September 25, 2021, from https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=3074326.
McLean, J. (n.d.). World civilization. The Islamic Golden Age | World Civilization. Retrieved September 25, 2021, from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/the-islamic-golde n-age/.
Tamul, D. J., & Hotter, J. C. (2019, October 29). Exploring mechanisms of narrative persuasion in a news context: The role of narrative structure, perceived similarity, stigma, and affect in changing attitudes. University of California Press. Retrieved September 25, 2021, from https://online.ucpress.edu/collabra/article/5/1/51/112960/Exploring-Mechanisms-of-Narr ative-Persuasion-in-a.
What is orientalism? What is Orientalism? | Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2021, from http://arabstereotypes.org/why-stereotypes/what-orientalism.
네이버웹툰 주식회사. NAVER WEBTOON Corp. (n.d.). Retrieved September 25, 2021, from https://webtoonscorp.com/en/.