The Privilege of Freedom: Ellen and the Women of Afghanistan in ‘Caravans’

Freedom, an influential theme of Caravans, reveals how the jobs and daily lives affect the characters throughout the novel. Social life throughout Afghanistan possesses core values that many citizens follow and abide by, as this influences the freedom of the people. The novel Caravans demonstrates these important ethics through the various characters, such as Ellen Jasper. Some characters face limited freedom, whereas others may receive undeserving freedom. Especially, Ellen is a white American girl in Afghanistan, she feels more free in a country where social life restricts women and their freedom.

For many years, Afghanistan is known for its hostile culture. They follow a set of strict rules within their society that fall into their ethics and make up their culture. Freedom is a major portion of the social life that attends to the Afghanistan culture. While the women are limited in their share of freedom, men through the society are greatly privileged. While freedom may be shared differently, regulations amongst the community are deemed similar through gender roles. Many events throughout the novel illustrate the strict rules and reprimands of Afghanistan society. Especially “In Ghazni… a woman [was] stoned to death. In Kandahar a young man committed murder over a dancing boy. They cut off his head…with a rusty bayonet,” (Michener, 155). Throughout various parts of Afghanistan, there are a variety of extreme punishments for murder and other crimes. Rather than putting them in jail as the United States does, the Afghanistan justice system resorts to death and severe suffering. Even without crime, Afghanistan continues to choose harsh punishment. For example, “‘After a series of collapses they often had to beat the men with whips to drive them back into the karez…in some districts they were branded at birth,” (Michener, 155). Both events highlight the intense ridicule of the Afghanistan society, where some people lack a voice that is strongly needed in this society.

Women in Afghanistan experience a lack of freedom throughout their daily lives. It is clear that men in the Afghanistan community hold the upper hand throughout social life, politics, and everything that makes up the culture. The men of this society know this too, as they discuss the lack of power and sophistication these women hold. Upon Mark Miller’s arrival, he was told, “‘I think you should know by now that in Kabul any pretty unmarried girl is fair game for all sorts of speculation,’” (Michener, 59). Here, women are viewed as a “game” and are later thought of as, “she is only a woman and nothing to get excited about,” (Michener, 39). Men search for beauty and often times intellectual appeal. However, these events demonstrate these women hold no aesthetic nor intellect as they are deemed as boring or unappealing. While women may be verbally abused in Afghanistan society, their basic freedom rights also lack, as “ he gave her a shove and cried, ‘Mira, do as I say.’ He propelled her from the serai and I had to assume that he was angry with her for having paraded before me, but I was wrong,” (Michener, 212). The character, Mira, now physically gets pushed around rather than just verbally. The physical abuse portrays the harm many of these men put on these women and how much freedom these women truly lack. However, Ellen Jasper has an amplitude of freedom.

Although Ellen Jasper is an American who is an active member of the Afghanistan society, she possess a significant amount of freedom whereas true Afghanistan women are limited in their freedom. Ellen arrives in Afghanistan searching for herself and a new life, as Philadelphia is “boring” and “stale.” While Ellen tries to impose this new culture upon herself, she receives more freedom than the typical Afghan without trying. Especially “on the morning after the marriage Ellen came to breakfast wearing a chaderi,” (Michener, 221). Her actions exemplify how deeply she desires to fit in with the Afghanistan culture. This too demonstrates the freeness she feels within this community: as an American woman, she feels as though she can step into a new world without any ramifications. She feels open to expressing her new identity. Ellen had never encountered problems with other men or women in regards of her new identity. It seems as though she ignored the idea of the limit of freedom on women in Afghanistan. Ellen treated both men and women equally, especially through her continues respect for Mira, a woman in the Kochi caravan. While Ellen is a strong communicator with others, she continues to advocate for herself as well. She “finally she turned away and swung easily into the rhythm of her new caravan, as if she had been traveling with it for many months,” (Michener, 335). Ellen truly demonstrates her freedom and ownership of rights here in Afghanistan as she simply fits right in to a new caravan. Her ability to be rigorously active in both the Afghanistan community and a new caravan highlights the strong future ahead of her. Her integration into the unknown, especially in a country where laws and the freedom of women are strict, she continues to make the most out of her experiences and her happiness.

The theme of freedom presents itself through the novel of Caravans, highlighting the lack and fulfillment of freedom in different people of the society. While women of the Afghanistan community have restricted freedom, Ellen Jasper has more rights.