A Thousand Splendid Suns
Sarah Young, Anna Hink, Shelby Moser
WHEN AND WHERE?
A Thousand Splendid Suns begins in the late 1970s in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion . Mariam grows up a “rutted, uphill dirt track” “in the shade of the willows,” secluded in a poor mud shack with her mother, Nana, just outside Gul Daman; Mariam is a “harami”: a child born outside of marriage, a bastard, a disgust to society (Hosseini 9-10). The Safid-koh mountains stand in the way of her and her dream life. Laila is raised on the opposite side of the spectrum in Kabul: she has two parents, a nice home, and a father who values her education. In April of 1992, “rockets [begin] to rain down on Kabul,” a constant “whistling” in the air and the scent of burnt “rubble and smoke” (Hosseini 155). Although the women comes from a different background and social class, they both are married to Rasheed, living in Kabul’s low-to-middle-class area where women cover their heads and identify themselves as housewives and mothers.
Without Mariam and Laila’s point of view, the reader would not understand the overall gist of a woman’s place in Afghan society. Across town, the “modern Afghan women” paint their nails, wear shorts, and have a career (Hosseini 225). Sexuality for these “modern” women is a part of their lives, while in other areas of Afghanistan, modesty is required. It isn’t until September of 1996 that all women must cover themselves in a burqa, losing their sense of self and sensuality all together. Afghanistan exposes the reader to an unknown oppression and fear that does not occur in the United States. If this novel was set in the United States or even modern-day Afghanistan, the reader would not be exposed to the same societal expectations and lifestyle. Not only this, but the novel would lack the struggles between class, society, and government. Without being set in this war-torn country, the politically and socially charged situations lose their power. (photo from huffingtonpost.com)
By most, women in Afghanistan were not seen as equals. Nana tells Mariam endurance is the “only...skill a woman like you and me needs in life” (Hosseini 7). Nana also reminds her that “A man’s accusing finger always finds a woman” (Hosseini 17). Rasheed makes sure Mariam understands “‘a woman’s face is her husband’s business only,’” and forces her stay covered in a burqa when outside the house. Unconsciously, it was considered acceptable for a man to control his wife physically, verbally, and sexually. Premarital sex was socially unacceptable, which is why Laila “[punctures] the pad of her index finger” and “[lets] her finger bleed on the sheets where [Rasheed and her] had lain together” just so she can prove she is a virgin (Hosseini 197). Laila and Mariam face violence and rape regularly in their home and to the Afghan people, that was normal. Laila’s schoolteacher, on the other hand, maintains that “women and men [are] equal in every way and there [is] no reason women should cover if men [don’t]” (Hosseini 101). The consensus most adults and men have is that women do not have the same rights as men and must submit to their husbands’ will. Women’s rights are overlooked, even more so when the Taliban and laws come. Authority “[does] not interfere with private family matters,” “especially when it benefits the man” (Hosseini 238). Mariam and Laila are stuck with this horrible husband who considers himself “charitable” for it because “a woman needs a husband,” especially for their safety at this time in Afghanistan (Hosseini 193). Although Rasheed sees himself as a help to Mariam and Laila, they are not able to speak up for themselves and leave. When defending herself, Mariam is told by a man, “Our brains are different. You are not able to think like we can...this is why we require only one male witness but two female ones.” (Hosseini 324) The Taliban laws restrict women to living a life of fear and to be dependent on men. Women’s intelligence, beauty, and character was not valued. It was only the husband who was supposed to “guard not only [the wife’s] honor but [their’s]” as a couple (Hosseini 200). To want to be someone was considered unacceptable. (photo from everyculture.com)
“You do realize, hamshira, that it is a crime for a woman to run away” (Hosseini 237). Officer Rahman tells Laila “it is [his] responsibility..to maintain order,” despite the fact innocent people are affected by “the murders, the lootings, the rapes, the tortures, the executions, and the bombings” surrounding them (Hosseini 238). Under 1996 Taliban law, women must “stay inside [their] home at all times” unless accompanied by a male relative, keep their faces covered, “are forbidden from working,” and overall oppressed (Hosseini 248-249). This affects Laila and Mariam as well all other women. It cause them to stay in their homes for days on end, waiting for Rasheed to come home just to beat them again. The political context is important to the novel, because without it, Laila and Mariam would have no reason to escape; they would have to reason to want to make something of themselves and make lives for their children. (photo from thepenisulataqar.com)
Laila and Mariam represent a kind of resilience in the face of a imposing social and political regime. During the Holocaust, Nazis persecuted Jews and other minorities, but there was backlash and rebellion from the oppressed.
Throughout the book, war is happening all around them, connecting them to the rest of the world. Invasions were made due to the terrorist attacks from 9/11, making it unsafe to live in most parts of Afghanistan. 9/11 has influenced opinions of Muslims and Middle Eastern people. Negative, cruel stereotypes are associated with the culture.
Currently, feminism is present in today’s society. Women advocate for their rights to be equal to men, just as A Thousand Splendid Suns’ women in Afghanistan long for. Mariam saw “clearly how much a woman could tolerate when she was afraid” (Hosseini 89) and “dreaded the sound of [Rasheed] coming home in the evening” (Hosseini 90) due to the equality between women and their husbands. Many women fight today for equal rights, like them women in A Thousand Sp;endid Suns could not do for themselves. (photo from theodysseyonline.com)
Significance to others
Since the last hundred years, America has come far to place women equal to men, including the right to vote. In sheltered suburbia, it seems like women have a much better place in society these days than they did in the past. After Mariam and Laila attempt to run away, about “two and a half years later,” Afghanistan falls under Taliban rule (Hosseini 244). This takes place in September of 1996, just a few years before most senior high school students were born. In 1997, very few Afghan hospitals would treat women (Hosseini 254). Girls fourteen or fifteen years old were married to men thirty years their senior. The responsibilities, rules, and limited opportunities these women were exposed to are very different than the world most young adult live today. At fifteen, it is expected for a girl to attend high school. At sixteen, she may go on her first date. At eighteen, an American woman would be receiving her diploma and thinking about college, while an Afghan woman would be expected to bear her husband his third child. It is difficult for a young American adult to place themselves in the shoes of an adolescent growing during the Taliban’s rule.
This oppression happened less than twenty five years ago, and there are still remnants of the Taliban regime. Most young adults have not had the opportunity to travel to Afghanistan or its surrounding countries; in school, students are not exposed to Afghanistan’s culture or oppression. Due to social media, A Thousand Splendid Suns offers a personal touch to history that can pique the interest of young adults. The novel offers a more personal touch to a part of Afghan history that is not widely understood in the Western world. (photo from listovative.com)
During the sex scenes in A Thousand Splendid Suns, Laila and Mariam are lowered into submissive roles while Rasheed overpowers them; they are left “to wait out the pain” (Hosseini 70). This reinforce the idea that Rasheed believed in the superiority of men over women, just as he exercises his power over women. Tariq, on the other hand, does not portray the powerful male figure. Tariq is marked by his artificial leg, and much like other marked figures in literature (Harry Potter), it helps place emphasis on the character. Even though Tariq leaves Laila early in her story, it makes sense to predict he will play a significant role in her life, without even being there.
Time also shapes the development of the story. During the spring of 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Laila’s mother “rose from bed a new woman,” and decided to throw a party (Hosseini 145). She also chats with Laila about Tariq, about how she could see a relationship between the two teens growing. Spring is a time for newness, and the maturation and transformation of Laila and her family is a great example of renewal. Several years later in September of 1996, the beginning of fall, begins the rapid deterioration of Laila and Mariam’s lives. Taliban law is enacted, and domestic violence becomes a norm in Rasheed’s household: his slaps would make “a loud smacking sound,” and he even “shoved the barrel of [his] gun into [his] wife’s mouth” (Hosseini 266-267). Autumn is time of decline and old age-getting closer to death (or winter). It’s not a very happy time. Winter is a time of death; in Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult, the final scene is a girl iceskating alone on a pond, only to slip and drown under the ice. (photo from ardythdebyuyn.com)
60 Second Recap
Khaled Hosseini, US Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency and author of A Thousand Splendid Suns, teaches his audience that in order to live, you must fight well. Hosseini moved to the United States from Kabul, Afghanistan as a political refugee when he was fifteen; his personal take on the Afghan culture is emotional and thought-provoking. Hosseini takes his readers deep into Afghanistan’s past horrors, from the Taliban’s reign to post-Taliban renovation. Hosseini exposes his readers to an oppression unknown to a majority of the Western world.
Mariam is a harami: an outcast, a disgust to society. She grows up with her mother on the outskirts of Herat, a city where her father lives a rich life with his “real” family, Mariam excluded. Laila lives in a middle-class neighborhood in Kabul with two parents, a nice house, and parents who value her education. Over the course of the novel, both girls lose everything and end up married to the same man, living the same dull life, and enduring the same violence in their household. The women together fight to live the life they deserve in a time of war and oppression.
Hosseini successfully communicates the abuse of women in late twentieth century Afghanistan while conveying Afghanistan’s political and social chaos during the rule of the Taliban. He weaves together Afghan history and the novel’s plotline in a way that connects the reader to a world they otherwise would have no connection to. Hosseini does not limit himself to surface issues; instead he explores the sexual and emotional relationship expected from a woman of this time.
By offering the views of both Laila and Mariam, the reader is able to further compare and contrast an Afghan woman’s treatment, no matter their age, social class, or beauty. Mariam is poor and has struggled her whole life for fair treatment from her father and the Afghan society Laila on the other hand has lived a life far more privileged than Mariam’s: she goes to school and lives in a home 10 times the size of Mariam’s little kolba. Their various accounts of rape and brutal beatings become real to the reader, and every tear, punch, or lost oppurtunity manifests itself in the reader’s bones, leaving them angry and passionately rooting for Laila and Mariam’s happy ending, a life of freedom.Khaled Hosseini masters the art of weaving together fact, fiction, and family. Laila and Mariam’s love for one another is the kind of loyal love all of humanity should search for. Their relationship empowers the audience to open their eyes to reality. The reader finishes the novel feeling more educated and aware of the world around them; in fact, maybe even left with a burning desire to make a difference for women around the world. (photo from en.wikipedia.org)