The Monstrosity of Loyalty and Greed in Ali Baba: or, the Forty Thieves (1889)
Ali Baba: or, the Forty Thieves was one of the most popular stories from the One Thousand and One Nights collection and has been told and retold for many years before being put into text in the 18th century. As an oral folktale, the true author is unknown.
Where does the monstrosity lie, Morgiana, the slave-girl’s loyalty, or the greed of Ali Baba, and the Forty Thieves? Loyalty is always a great trait unless it leads to murderous actions. They could even be in the best intentions. I believe that the true monster lies in Morgiana. We know that greed leads to monstrous actions, but no one expects it to come from loyalty. In analyzing the cover picture of Ali Baba or the Forty Thieves, you see in the top right corner that it is a part of the Wonder-Story Series. There are three human elements in the picture, Ali Baba, Morgiana, and one of the thieves. The two main characters, Ali Baba, and Morgiana are dressed well but modestly. Ali Baba looks to be oblivious to his surroundings, a lot like the character in the tale. Morgiana, although she is a slave, is dressed in vivid colors, possibly to show the status of her master. You can almost sense the amazement through the expression on her face when she found the thieves one by one hiding in what she thought to be oil vats.
Most take on this folktale show Ali Baba, along with the Captain and his forty thieves to be the villains. Greed seems to be a common link to all the characters being monsters for thievery; I think there is another monster that needs to be addressed—Morgiana, the slave-girl. Morgiana seems to do deeds for her master because of her loyalty. Once she started receiving gifts, including her freedom, she seemed to do the deeds to keep her newly found lifestyle.
Although most of the characters in this tale can be singled out for their greed, Morgiana’s role is less evident. The simple slave-girl seems to be loyal to a fault, but Morgiana’s loyalty could be considered as selfishness. At first, it seems she did the deeds because it was her duty to her master, but as the book lays out her “good” deeds, she seems almost crafty to get what she wants from her freedom to Ali Baba’s son’s hand in marriage and finally, the secret to the cave. Morgiana, though most saw her as a hero for being so loyal and clever, and defeating the captain and the thieves attempts to kill Ali Baba, was still murderous. After she boiled the thieves alive, it was said, “she went to bed pleased with herself after succeeding in saving her master and his family” (“Ali Baba” 9). Morgiana not only killed 40 by throwing boiling oil on the thieves, and stabbing the captain, she helped conceal the death of Cassim, Ali Baba’s only brother, and her true master.
To view this item, visit Special Collections in McCain Library 305. Ali Baba: or, the Forty Thieves can be found at de Grummond Stacks PZ8 .A4 1898. For more information about this book, contact Ellen Ruffin at or 601.266.6543, or view this item in its entirety at the University of Southern Mississippi Digital Collections.
“Ali Baba: or, the Forty Thieves.” The University of Southern Mississippi University Libraries, Mcloughlin
Brothers, Inc., digilib.usm.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/dgbooks/id/2840. Accessed 17 Feb. 2017.
Text by Monica Brown, undergraduate student at Southern Miss. This Item of the Month stems from the Digital Archives Research Group’s Save Our Stories project, a project designed to introduce Southern Miss students to our archival holdings. To learn more about SOS or the Digital Archives Research Group at USM, visit https://digitalarchives.wordpress.com. Congratulations to Monica Brown on her strong work.