A Thousand Splendid Suns: A Prime Example of Feminist Literature
Feminist literature seeks to outline the struggles women face in society and the different ways these struggles are reflected, questioned and pondered upon due to widespread negative stereotyping of women in literature (Bertens, 2001).To accomplish this, Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns promotes determined female characters who strive slowly to overcome the suffocating restraints forced on them by a patriarchal society. As a consquence, his construction of female characters at times protest against the cultural stereotypes (Bertens,2001) which results in a movement forward to stabalise the unequal power relations between the sexes (Bertens,2001). However the gender equality may never be achieved as the patriarchal values dominating the Afghan culture is reinforced by Islamic principles which the taliban, consisting of males, have full control over. Additionally, A Thousand Splendid Suns portrays the emotional struggle of two women who are forced adhere to harsh treatment and rules of culture and society implemented on women duringing and after the soviet-Afghan conflict in the 1980s. As a result, Mariam and Leila lead an oppressed life.On the other hand,Mariam is an epitome of a character who has been ‘culturally constructed’ and thus has been presented as being ‘ naturally timid and dependent’(Bertens,2001).However it could be argued that her personality is a result of the environment she was brought up in where her mother isolated her from others her age during her childhood.Despite this, Nana is perceived as conforming to stereotype of ‘dissatisfied shrew’.Furthermore, Laila’s conformity to the stereotypes can be questioned as she challenges and follows the rules of the Afghan society. Hence, Hosseini fails to resist the ‘stereotypical representations’ (Bertens,2001)
(Barry, 2002) states that the cultural ‘mind-set’ in men and women perpetuate sexual inequality which ultimately results in the unjust treatment of women. Notably, Hossesini illustrates Nana as an ‘immoral seductress’ as she is shamed for bearing the illegitimate child of her wealthy employer Jalil, who once he finds out she is pregnant, builds her a small house far away from the city where he lives.Nana gives advice to Mariam that a man will always find a woman’ to put blame on therefore she should prepare herself to expect nothing but abuse from men.Unfortunately,Mariam does find that throughout her life that her mother is often correct and women must endure injustice in a patriarchal Afghan society. Throughout the novel the patriarchal norms, order and conditions are dominating ( Hibri 1981). Hosseini makes a symbolic use of the ‘burqa’ as it stands for male dominance and discarding women as object for sex. It eliminates women as a source of seduction and shame that needs to be covered and protects them. On the contrary, the ‘burqa’ is seen as a symbol of oppression and confinement as upon wearing it Mariam experiences that the ‘loss of peripheral vision was unnerving’ and felt suffocated at the way the cloth pressed against her mouth’. The oppression of women in Afghanistan is linked to male dominance most significantly associated with the fundamentalist group Taliban in the early 1990s. It is during this period that the rights of women were completely abolished. Majority of women in Afghanistan were being barred from active life and felt restricted due to Taliban movement.As a result, many women would be confined to spend most of their lives indoors, Mariam wears it as she accepts the stereotypical role of women who is obedient whereas Leila accepts it to hide from embarrassment of being married to Rasheed. Hosseini juxtaposes these characters to foreshadow that they will overcome oppression by sharing their strength to become equally strong and bring positive change for the future of Afghanistan through their unyielding effort (Rauf, 2017)
Mariam’s characterisation doesn’t fit in with the cultural stereotypes but instead is a complex character.She can be perceived as a self sacrificing angel as she knew her death would leave enough money as insurance to fund the orphanage but this contradicts the fact that she received capital punishment for mudering her husband. Therefore she does not fully fit the stereotype expressing her flight protesting against the opression of women. Equally important, Hosseini characterises Mariam to represent women who endeavour hard to be conventional and abide by the rules of their society and to their culture but are unfortunately compelled to take affairs into their own hands (Bertens,2001). Consequently she makes the drastic decision to murder Rasheed in oder to save the lives of Leila and her daughter.Murder of Rasheed is significant as it shows the overcoming of the cultural stereotypes outlined by (Bertenes,2000) as Mariam commits this crime in order to protect herself and Leila, also to end the torment and opression both of them have suffered from their husband, ’raised the shovel, raised it high as she could. Hosseini uses this repetition to amplify that she has become the triumph of the oppression she had suffered from her husband.
On the other hand, murder is immoral and supports the cultural stereotype of women being dangerous and immoral however this has to be done in order for her to refuse the power of culture and society. The ‘shovel’ represents liberation as Mariam feels triumph making a decision for the ‘first time’. Additionally, it is a motif as this object is mentioned again towards the end of the novel.Before striking him she notices his gaze ‘almost soften slightly and wonders if he sees her ‘self-sacrifice ‘ but he begins to ‘sneer’ which motivates he to strike the lethal blow to his head. Hosseini perpetuates the classical orientalist attitudes towards Muslim men as prototypes of sexual monstrosity and debauchery. This forces Mariam to adhere to the stereotype of being dangerous because of the torment that has accumulated over the years worked as the driving force for her act of immorality.
Women had to endure worst circumstances, especially when giving birth as hospitals had ‘no oxygen, no medication and no electricity’ This setting of the hospital express the strength a mother has to physically and emotionally go through. This symbolises how much women are oppressed and discriminated against and how much little standards they must live by. Hosseini was inspired to write this novel of two courageous women after his visit to Afghanistan where he heard stories of what women’ emotional and physical struggle were. The novel shows the slow transition of women fighting out of their oppression until they are free, so Leila marries her childhood lover whilst Mariam sacrifices herself through death which suggests freedom of the world and body from the oppression and victimisation that continue for years in Afghanistan. Bertens (2001) states that a masculine gendering is supposed to evoke positive connotations whilst a feminine gendering is supposed to evoke negative ones – feminism has showed binary opposition – to use a structuralist term for such pairs – is persuasively present in the way we think about nature, emotion and art.Hosseini protests against this by giving strong characteristics to both women.
(Marcus,2019) says that ‘freedom would become the environment ‘ of someone who is ‘no longer capable of tolerating aggressiveness, brutality and ugliness of the established way of life’. Mariam feels as if she is somehow to blame, ’has she ever been a deceitful wife ? a complacent wife? A dishonourable woman? Discreditable? ‘. Hosseini uses this structure to suggest it could have stemmed from Afghanistan’s turbulent history as women’s rights have diminished in the society of Taliban authority: they are banned to laugh loudly, even talk/shake hands with a non-mahram and not allowed to get an education. (Bertens 2001) emphasises that feminists say that the focus of interest is on the heroines choice of marriage partner, which will decide her ultimate social position as exclusively determine her happiness and fulfilment or the lack of those. As a result Mariam or Leila fit the cultural stereotypes as their marriage to Rasheed has led them to lead an oppressed life and why they struggled to find happiness in the beginning.On the contrary, the women are shown as the strongest individuals in the novel, capable of enduring much more than the male characters. This is evident when Leila sees something in Mariam’s eyes ‘that neither Rasheed nor the Taliban will be able to break’ This foreshadows that her strong willed character will cause something revolutionary to happen. Additionally, her personality is described as ‘something as hard and unyielding as a block of limestone. This simile foreshadows that she will lead them out of a life of misery and confinement; she will show them the light. Moreover, this undermines that she has a strong personality buried deep within her. Leila’s father shows his modern views on women’s rights by expressing that ‘marriage can wait ‘education cannot’. Additionally, he states that ‘Afghanistan is going to need you as much as it’s men, maybe even more.(Bertens 2001) stated that feminism has been focused right from the beginning on gender because through revision of gender roles seemed the most effective way of changing power relations between men and women. This would result in equality between both genders.
(Natalie, 2015) implies that after Mariam realises her oppression and degradation she decides to resist the male dominated world to claim her loss identity with the emotional help of Leila and the love they shared for her children, ‘she became intensely aware of her heart thumping, of the blood thudding in her ears. Betray her thoughts’. This personification of ears foreshadows that she will not listen to Rasheed and something revolutionary will happen that she will have control over. Although Mariam entered the world as a ‘harami child of a lowly village’, she feels renewed as she departs from the world as a woman who was ‘loved and been loved back’ (Akhtar, 2017) Hosseini uses this juxtaposition to express that there are strong –willed woman in Afghanistan who would collectively overcome the oppression they suffer from the taliban.The ‘shovel’ is symbolic as its used to murder Rasheed and emphasises that she finally values herself after his discriminating attitudes towards her and other women. Mariam’s ‘self-sacrifice’ gives Leila strength, ’own heart, where sh shines with the bursting radiance of a thousand suns’. Mariam scarified her life so Leila would have the opportunity to help rebuild afghanistan as she uses mariams money Additionally, Rasheed perceived Mariam as being essentially helpless but she murders him expressing that cultural stereotypes can be overcome but at the cost of something precious: her life.
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