Orientalist Representation of the Saracens and the East in Middle English Romances
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The aim of this dissertation is to present the identity creation process of the West through the non-Arthurian Middle English romances of the Middle Ages in line with Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism. In the Middle Ages, the English non-Arthurian romances create a binary opposition by othering the East. The Middle English romances represent the East as exotic and through these representations that they create binary oppositions. Furthermore, both positive and negative connotations of the word exotic are represented in the romances. Physiognomy, location and culture are the criteria used by the West to assess the East as exotic, in accordance with Orientalism. The Western cultural sphere as it was adjacent to the Eastern cultural sphere, used this close existence to identify itself by defining the East. In the romances the reflection of the East as the enemy, the religious other usually combined with the depiction of the Crusades. However, the polytheistic representation of Islam, and eliminating the individuality of the East by reducing it to masses are also depicted in the romances from an Orientalist persepective. Furthermore, the theme of conversion, either rejected or accepted is also employed in the romances to depict the cultural dichotomies and imply an assumed cultural superiority of the West. The rejection of the Saracen offer to protect Christian faith or the worthy, chivalric Saracen accepting to convert into Christianity are depicted in the romances to impose the superiority of the Christianity. Hence, the Orientalist representation shows the East as the other and shows that only the chivalric or heroic Saracen, according to the Western values, can be assimilated and converted. In the context of Orientalism, the West narrated a negative image of the East to create its own identity, and saw the East as a place to conquer or as a colony, and this dissertation studies the reflection of these attitudes in the romance tradition.