A Thousand Splendid Suns
Laila’s Character Development
When Laila is introduced at the beginning of part two, the reader recognises that she represents the new, modern ideals that stem from the communist revolution in 1979. From being called ‘Revolutionary girl’ by her teacher, due to her being born on the same day as the revolution, as well as having physical attributes such as her ‘green eyes’ and ‘blonde curls’, it is instantly clear that the author is portraying Laila as someone who is unique or special in terms of the context. This extends to both her educational achievement as well as her families socially progressive views on woman’s rights. However, the instability surrounding Afghanistan’s politics is shown to immerse her uniqueness and force her to grow up faster than she is expected to. Over the course of the novel, the surrounding conflict forces her to develop certain ideas, which are showcased through her moments of skepticism towards authority and her headstrong personality. The ways in which she grows up to adopt these attitudes all originate from her uniqueness; her families’ values, her academic performance and the close relationships she has with other characters.
The death of Ahmed and Noor happens near the beginning of Laila’s story and is the first death in her family. Their absence in the novel, but the continuous discussion of them in Laila’s household introduces the reader to the strong connection Afghan families have to their country. The death of both these characters symbolizes the idea of sacrificing yourself for something you believe in. The families’ misery and grief that plagues them after the boy’s death recounts how the effects of death spread far beyond just the character that dies. This idea is introduced continually throughout Laila’s life as the people around her begin to die. Laila’s reaction to her brothers’ death can therefore foreshadow how she reacts to people that die. For Laila, it is hard to ‘summon sorrow’ for her brothers as, for her, they are like ‘characters in a fable.’ Although one may interpret Laila’s attitudes towards their deaths as one of disrespect, it is perhaps more of regretful indifference. By using the metaphor of a ‘fable’, Hosseini is both reminding the reader about Laila’s young age, through the childlike connotations associated with a fable, as well as, emphasizing how Laila can’t mourn people she never knew. The author juxtaposes these ideas of childhood and innocence with ones of death and experience to perhaps show how Laila is in a transitioning period from a child to an adult. Ahmed and Noor’s death symbolizes the infiltration of Afghan politics into the personal lives of the characters, suggesting that Laila is being forced to grow up due to the death and conflict caused by the context. The macro-level political change along with the micro-level character interaction, shows how the death of political figureheads, this being Ahmed and Noor, forces characters to mature much more quickly.
Other familial relationships are also shown to have an effect on the rate at which Laila grows up, specifically, the relationship she has with her mother. Fariba is introduced as a young and vibrant woman from Mariam’s perspective in part one, who loves her husband and kids and generally has a positive outlook on life. However, after her sons go to fight for the Mujahedeen, she becomes withdrawn and grieves over them. Her depression over her sons’ fates blinds her to what is happening to her daughter, who is still living with her. This leaves Laila feeling unwanted and uncared for, resulting in her realizing that her ‘footprints would forever wash away beneath the waves of sorrow that swelled and crashed’. This metaphor, used to display the idea of varying emotions, links to wider themes of motherhood that continue throughout the novel. Hosseini displays the difficulties that mothers have to face in order to raise a child, especially within this context. Although one may assume that Fariba is an inadequate parent due to the treatment of Laila, it could be argued that the grief she feels in regards to her sons’ death is evidence of the love she has for her children. Similarly to Nana, by not being present or aware of Laila for a large portion of her life, it could be argued that she taught Laila about the importance of endurance and resilience. By not being present around the house, Laila is forced to undertake the tasks and emotional relationships, which mothers are usually burdened with, at a young age. It also means that Laila recognizes the importance of childcare, which presents itself later in the novel when she has children of her own. Therefore, one may claim that the relationship Laila has with her mother gives Laila independence along with an idea about the difficulties of motherhood, when she is still a young girl.
The very reason that Laila is a woman in a society where women are restricted by men and law, is in and of itself, an explanation for why she has to grow up so quickly. The rights of women, in regard to education, are limited by men in the patriarchal context. Laila, however, is unique and her academic ability is what gives the reader hope in her character. Her father, Babi’s, emphasis on Laila having an education provides the base of her personality. By being educated, Laila is empowering herself and increasing the opportunities that she can access later in life. Babi’s belief in education is so extreme that he lectures to Laila “A society has no chance at success if its woman are uneducated, Laila. No chance.” Education and academics are seen as hope for women in Afghanistan as it gives them a platform to defend themselves. This is evident when Laila questions Rasheed about his contradictory political views, after they are married. It is also an explanation as to why Laila teaches at an orphanage by the end of the novel. Laila embodies the hope in society towards female education and allows her to be wiser than the people around her. This wisdom that she gains through education, both gives her voice experience as well as justifies the difficult decisions a young girl has to make.
Laila grows up in multiple ways that usually relate back to the characters that surround her and the context in which she is placed. Through the death of characters like Ahmed and Noor, Laila learns how to overcome the grief caused by death, giving her the resilience she needs in order to deal with the common tragedies that occur in Afghanistan. Fariba’s absence in Laila’s childhood further prepares her for the independence she will have to face once her parents have died. It also is what allows her to provide as a mother for her children near the end of the novel. Finally, the education that Laila receives both motivates her as a woman in a patriarchal society, where many women are uneducated, and gives her a platform to argue and make decisions. In part two, the different tragedies that Laila faces gives her the independence, endurance and wisdom she needs to survive and allows the reader to compare how Laila’s character has developed over the novel.
Cultural and Historical Influences Found in Six Characters in Search of an Author, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and Candide
Every culture has certain historical events that alter the way that culture functions and appears. For much of the world, the world wars were this historical influence. Many countries had not experienced such a sudden loss in population, and for many families, it meant the sudden loss of not one, but many loved ones. Similarly, Middle Eastern countries have been plagued by religious wars for centuries; with each rising religion, or even different interpretations of religions, the people of this region are forced to assimilate and conform to the laws forced upon them by an ever evolving government. Culture altering events do not always present themselves in the form of wars, as so drastically shown by the change brought about by the Enlightenment. Though the enlightenment period had its violent points, the change was largely in the ideas and ideals held by the citizens of Europe and a tumultuous, blossoming America. The reform seen here was philosophical and political. Through the eyes of the characters in Candide, Six Characters in Search of an Author, and A Thousand Splendid Suns the effects of these events on their authors can be interpreted. Many of the effects felt by the authors of these works show how they, personally, felt the cultural and historical changes happening right before their eyes.
In 1759, Candide was born. The height of the enlightenment was underway and the effects of it spanned from Europe to the westernmost expansions of the Americas. For François-Marie Arouet, the enlightenment only encouraged her “bold, witty, and rebellious” personality (Simon 97). The influence of this revolutionary time can be found in many aspects of Candide. The first of these is the idea that “everything is for the best” (101). The concept of God as a watchmaker was sweeping over Christianity, and from this religious alteration, the idea that god has prepared “this best of all possible worlds” (101) for his creations and those creations are now left to fend for themselves. Throughout the story, the plot is thickened with strife, slavery, and some of the worst conditions imaginable; however, since they live in the best conditions allowed by God, they are thankful that they are not worse off. Meeting people who are worse off than they are prevents them from sacrilegiously questioning God any more than they do. The enlightenment also brought about the belief that education was a right and something to be shared, cherished, and obtained no matter the costs. Voltaire held this belief close to his heart to such an extent that he would smuggle his literature to be published in countries with freedom of the press. He believed that education should be full and without censorship.
Similarly, in Candide, we see characters being formally taught (education with the censorship of the establishment in which is taught); this formal teaching is altered throughout Candide’s life through experience and testing of the philosophical ideals he was taught. Even Pangloss, who introduced the idea of “the best of all possible worlds”, alters his belief in this concept once he is cast from the censorship of the Baron’s castle. This evolution of what is taught and what is learned shows Voltaire’s belief that education is both taught formally and learned through living a full life. The difference in Candide’s education, both formal and informal, is brought about by a shift in social class. The class system during the enlightenment was a steadfast component, one that Arouet opposed. This opposition of a change seen during a cultural revolution shows that not all citizens within a culture necessarily embrace the cultural metamorphosis. In some aspects, this gives culture a more dynamic appearance and adds the effect of subcultures upon the population. Voltaire mocks the class system by sending his characters through all of them. From chapter to chapter, Candide and Cunégonde shift from wealth to poverty, from strife to worsening strife.
The turmoil seen the Enlightenment, including revolutions, political coops, and executions, is evident in every situation experienced by the characters in Candide. The story begins with a coop, is riddled with near executions, and includes a few actual executions. Arouet undoubtedly saw this tumultuous activity in his everyday life and integrated his fear of it into his works. From eighteenth century France, the influence of historical events moves to Italy during the early 1900’s. Luigi Pirandello, during this time period, is in the midst of bombs, gunfire, and unimaginable death that are inescapable in the Italian theatre of World War I. The Great War took millions from Italy and threatened the loss of many more as the Italians fought to keep the Austro-Hungarians from decimating their country. This amount of loss changes the culture of a country, and even a continent, leaving behind a broken, dark view of man. World War I emerged the way most wars do: one group of people attempted to impose their way of thought on another.
The actions in Candide are not unlike the actions of the characters in Six Characters in Search of an Author. The father and stepdaughter in particularly impose their view about what the play should look like on the producer and actors to the point where they begin to fight back. The father uncontrollably yells “Oh, no!” as the stepdaughter “bursts into laughter” (1275) at the acting they deem as intolerable. This theme of intolerance can be found in the theatre of this play and the European theatre of the war, particularly the antagonistic role Austria played. As the producer commands them to “shut up” (1276), the retaliatory attitude of Italy is introduced to the play. Pirandello was undoubtedly affected by the loss of so many soldiers across the continent and in his home country. These men, uninvolved in the initial confrontation between Russia and Austria that sparked this deadly war, are seen as innocent in the eyes of Pirandello. For this reason, the most innocent characters in the play, the little boy and little girl, “don’t really exist” (1279). Like the ghosts of soldiers lost to their families, the children cling to their mother and their memory “[helps] to keep [her] grief alive” (1279). To heighten this grief, many of Italy’s attempts to defend their borders were futile in the face of the mighty army held by the Central Powers. This futility is mirrored in the battle that the characters face to have their story told correctly and even told at all.
The theme of war continues on to the late twentieth century in Afghanistan where religious wars and oppression became everyday life to most families. Much of the loss seen in Six Characters in Search of an Author is also experienced by Mariam, a bright-eyed young Afghani girl, living in an environment where there seems to be “one invader after another” (Hosseini 78). Her story, along with the story of her family and those closest to her, is told in A Thousand Splendid Suns. Constant war and shifts in political power create a dynamic setting where women’s rights are dictated by the government and enforced by husbands. According to Rasheed, it is “a matter of law” and “[his] responsibility” to use her as his personal maid and slave (136). A woman is taught to “quietly endure all that falls upon [her]” (49). The oppression of mothers, daughters, and friends seen by Khaled Hosseini during his time in Afghanistan adds a feminist flair to his writing and could contribute to his main characters being female. The destruction caused by bombs, bullets, and so called freedom fighters is echoed in the emotional state of Hosseini’s characters. He acknowledges that “every afghan story is marked by death . . . and imaginable grief” (203). Mariam’s mother is plagued by a mental illness forced upon her by society; in this way, her society kills her with its oppression. Treated like a piece of property to be sold to a business man and a toy for him to play with and discard, Mariam’s emotional war has many sides to it. The loss of her mother and, symbolically her father, lead her to crave the family she knows she will never have with Rasheed. Her miscarriages lead her to resent herself because it is her fault this ideal family she pictures will never be a reality. She is bombarded by the echoes of her mother calling her Harami, and she begins to believe that she is, in fact, “an illegitimate person who [will] never have [a] legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance” (1). This self-loathing is furthered by the entrance of Laila into their family. Mariam is replaced, left to tend to the wife she could never be. No sooner can she bond with Laila, they are stripped away from her and she is left to the same fate as her mother: choosing a death she deems herself worthy of. These women are a product of the land they call home, a land Hosseini called home and brought to the rest of the world through his experience and writing. Hosseini teaches his readers that emotional wars can cause deaths more effectively than any missile; most of these deaths, however, are not of the body, but of the soul.
The religious aspect of the war in Afghanistan is also experienced at the personal level for Mariam. The war they are surrounded by, oppressed by, killed by, is in the name of God. Yet, to ease the pain and grant them hope, they pray this same God. The characters of this story use their religion to escape their religion. This loving creator who cares so deeply for his creations also believes that women should have fewer rights, serve their husband, and die if they choose to do otherwise. The irony is tangible. Every character has a piece of reality within them placed there by authors who are so affected by the events they have endured, that they cannot separate their writing from their ever-present reality.
From war, to religion, to societal movements, and back to war again, authors carry the burden of these life-altering events; they lessen this load through writing, each character taking a piece of their creators hurt, strife, and truth with them. Similarly, the common struggles between reader, author, and character allow the reader to lessen their burdens into the literature with the assurance that they are not the only ones suffering. Every reader suffers loss, physical and emotional wars, and religious confusion not unlike those illustrated in the literary works discussed previously. In shared grief and suffering, there is solace, whether it is shared by author and character or reader and character.
Hosseini, Khaled. A Thousand Splendid Suns. New York: Riverhead, 2007. Print.
Simon, Peter, ed. The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Beginning to 1650.
Shorter Third ed. Vol. 2. New York City: W. W. Norton & Co, 2001. Print.
Comparing “Osama” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns”
After years of abuse, Mariam, the protagonist of A Thousand Splendid Suns, looks back and examines herself: “What harmful thing had she willfully done to this man to warrant his malice, his continual assaults, the relish with which he tormented her?” (Hosseini 346). During the time period of both this novel and the film Osama, a woman’s life in Afghanistan was completely shaped by oppression. In this quote, Mariam demonstrates this pervasive sense of subjugation by blaming herself for her own abuse, a weakness that has been with her since she was born. The childhoods of the central characters of the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns and the film Osama determine how they each respond to oppression.
Mariam’s upbringing shaped her in a way that caused her to accept her own oppression, until she realized that she didn’t have to respond in this manner. Throughout her childhood, Mariam is ambitious and dreams for a life outside of her small shack, but grows up ashamed of her existence. Her mother, Nana, encourages this shame with lines like, “You are a clumsy little harami. This is my reward for everything I have endured. An heirloom-breaking, clumsy little harami” (Hosseini 4). Nana also uses the frightening and difficult circumstances of Mariam’s birth as a way to manipulate her into feeling guilty. Despite Nana’s bitterness, the two women generally get along well. Mariam and Nana work together every morning collecting eggs, feeding the animals, and making bread (Hosseini 15). Although Mariam’s childhood is by no means privileged, it is a simple, routine lifestyle that brings her joy. However, her shame of being illegitimate, combined with the guilt she feels after her mother’s suicide, stays with her for her entire life. This contributes to her tolerance of Rasheed’s abuse. Due to never feeling like she was wanted and that she was the cause of her mother’s death, Mariam is virtually unable to stand up for herself. For example, the first time she confronts Rasheed, Mariam says, “Eighteen years […] And I never asked you for a thing. Not one thing” (214). She continuously takes Rasheed’s physical and verbal assault, and as her mother taught her, she endures it and lives. As the story comes to a close, Mariam realizes that she has done nothing wrong and that her mother’s judgments and Rasheed’s abuse were completely undeserved. This is the realization that allows her to sacrifice her life to save Laila, whom Mariam loves like her own daughter.
Laila, another of the central characters of A Thousand Splendid Suns, would never blame herself for other people’s actions. She grew up with a much more privileged lifestyle than Mariam does, a lifestyle which impacted her response to oppression. Throughout Laila’s childhood, her parents, especially her father, encouraged her education. Babi, her father, proves this in statements like, “Marriage can wait, education cannot […] You can be anything you want, Laila” (Hosseini 114). Like Mariam, Laila grows up with grand dreams, but unlike Mariam, she has the support and the ability to actually work towards them. When her parents are killed by a rocket, Laila has to marry Rasheed to cover up that she is pregnant with Tariq’s child. Throughout all of this turmoil, Laila’s life changes drastically. She’s forced to wear a burqa, give up all of her values, and accept the role of a mother and wife at fifteen years old. When she becomes a mother, Laila puts her children first, and never gives up hope of a better life. Soon after marrying Rasheed, Laila begins to understand the effect her decisions have on her life: “even though the baby inside her was no bigger than a mulberry, Laila already saw the sacrifices that a mother had to make” (Hosseini 218). Despite family tragedies and challenging times, Laila’s childhood was not as bad as the childhoods of those around her. Due to this discrepancy, she is not resigned to Rasheed’s abuse and knows that there is a better life out there for her. In the novel, Laila’s original plans for escape are undermined by her pregnancy. Later, when her daughter is older, she begins stealing money from Rasheed and plans her escape again. The reader finds this out when she says, “We’re leaving this spring, Aziza and I. Come with us, Mariam” (Hosseini 256). Although the escape plan doesn’t work, Laila maintains hope for survival on account of her upbringing, which gave her the tools she needed to make it through her time of oppression. This set of circumstances also makes Laila significantly different from Mariam, who lacks these tools, and consequently accepts her oppression rather than attempting to change it.
In terms of childhood, Laila and Osama are almost complete opposites. Osama, the main character of Siddiq Barmak’s 2003 film Osama, lives with her mother and grandmother in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Osama’s response to oppression is very different than both Mariam’s and Laila’s, due to the circumstances of her childhood. As described in A Thousand Splendid Suns, some of the rules of the Taliban seem odd and ridiculous: “You will not paint your nails. If you do, you will lose a finger,” (Hosseini 278) but some more seriously affect women, like “Women are forbidden from working” (Hosseini 278). Osama’s father and uncle were both killed in warfare, leaving her relatives with no one to support them. Eventually, Osama’s mother and grandmother decide that they only way to survive is to send Osama out to work disguised as a boy. This puts her life at risk, and it’s clear in the film that Osama is scared of being caught (Barmak). Osama’s childhood heavily affects the way she responds to and understands oppression, because she grows up in a time period when she doesn’t know anything different. Osama grew up simultaneously fighting for and risking her life, and thus has no understanding of the concept of a better life. This lack of knowledge leaves her without the ability to maintain hope throughout a time of oppression. If Osama’s whole life is a struggle and it’s all she knows, there is no reason for her to expect anything to change. Towards the end of the film, Osama is shown jumping rope in her jail cell (Barmak), which demonstrates that she was too young to have any knowledge or understanding of a life without the type oppression she is subjected to on a regular basis. In addition, once Osama is revealed as a girl, she runs away, and when she is caught, a man immediately puts a burqa over her head (Barmak). When this happens, Osama stops resisting, because she knows that women have to wear burqas while in public; now that she has been officially marked as a woman, she feels that there is no escape. In Osama’s mind, the life of a woman is synonymous with oppression. To draw a final parallel between the two works, Osama is portrayed as most similar to Mariam because they both don’t fully understand the concept of a lifestyle that renders women free to go and do whatever they choose.
Overall, if any of the characters had a different childhood than they did, the outcomes of their lives may have been completely different. Their response to oppression was dictated by the ways in which they were raised. Osama is alike Mariam in the sense that they both accept their oppression, although Mariam’s response is due to a childhood of shame, while Osama simply knows nothing else. Since Laila had a more privileged childhood than both of them, she is able to stand up for herself and maintain hope, because she believed that she could again have the freedom she once did. John Henrik Clarke believed that “To hold a people in oppression you have to convince them first that they are supposed to be oppressed” and Osama’s and Mariam’s acceptance of oppression clearly manifests Clarke’s ideas.
The Sun Shines on Olympus
Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns does more than tell the story of two ordinary women struggling in war-torn Afghanistan but, describes what would happen if the Gods of Mount Olympus were sent to live in the country during its pre and post Taliban years. The purpose behind Hosseini’s symbolic characters is to show that men and women are both capable of incredible feats. Hosseini has written a feminist novel with A Thousand Splendid Suns. The characters in Hosseini’s novel are representatives of the Gods of Olympus from Greek mythology in order to show how these actions have been commonplace for years but, that does not mean that they should be accepted.
Hosseini uses the character Rasheed and his connection to the Greek God Zeus to show how men have historically been given an abundance of power, just for being born male, and this power comes with a superiority complex that leads them to believe that all females are beneath them and should be treated accordingly. The introduction to Rasheed frightens the audience with descriptions of how massive and threatening the man appears physically. Hosseini writes, “Mariam smelled him before she saw him. Cigarette smoke and thick, sweet cologne not faint like Jalil’s…The size of him made her gasp, and she had to drop her gaze, her heart hammering away. She sensed him lingering in the doorway, then his slow, heavy-footed movement across the room. The candy bowl on the table clinked in tune with his steps” (Hosseini 52). Suddenly the reason that Zeus always takes the form of other creatures during his sexual conquests make more sense. Like Zeus, Rasheed’s appearance alone is overpowering, though in the case of the God, women actually burned to death upon seeing his true form. Rasheed seemingly takes up more space in the room than Mariam is allowed to have and Hosseini writes knowing that this detail will make the audience uncomfortable even it is commonplace for the story he is telling. Rasheed, like Zeus, has the ability to collect romantic partners without being scorned.
Both Zeus’ and Rasheed’s wives get upset whenever their husbands find other romantic partners but they never divorce or leave these men because they cannot. On the topic of courting Laila, Rasheed says to Mariam, “Think of it this way, Mariam. I’m giving you help around the house and her a sanctuary. A home and a husband… Well, I’d say this is downright charitable of me… The way I see it, I deserve a medal” (Hosseini 216). Rasheed is asking for praise for something that Mairam is just expected to do, invite someone else into their home. Hosseini has Rasheed exert his power this way so that we could see how Rasheed, and their society as a whole, sees men as the only gender capable of keeping a household thriving. Hosseini is pushing his audience to understand that this mindset is ancient and society should have moved past it by now. Another trademark quality that both Rasheed and Zeus share is how they punish those around them using brute force. Rasheed carries his belt in the same menacing way that Zeus carries his lightning bolt. Hosseini’s novel writes, “His powerful hands clasped her jaw. He shoved two fingers in her mouth and pried it open, then forced the cold, hard pebbles into it. Mariam struggled against them, mumbling, but he kept pushing the problems in, his upper lip curled into a sneer… Through the mouth full of grit and pebbles, Mariam mumbled a plea. Tears were leaking out of the corners of her eyes” (Hosseini 104). It is important to note that this occasion is just one of many times Rasheed has physically abused his wives (mental and emotional abuse was also present in his relationships) and he did not receive any repercussions for his actions. The world that Rasheed lives in has taught him that he is free to treat women as he pleases because, as a man, he is above them. He does not see any wrongs in his behavior, but Hosseini has shown it to his audience by making the women the center of his story instead of a character like Rasheed.
Mariam was written to be the novel’s version of Hera so that Hosseini could show a woman who was born into an unjust society, realized the inequalities put in place, and devoted her life to trying to be more than what society had thought she was. Often in Greek mythology, Hera is only known as the wife of Zeus, but both Mairam and Hera made names for themselves that stretched beyond being decorations to their husbands. Mariam and Hera show resilience as they face the everyday struggle of being a woman who is reduced to being a servant for her husband and nothing more. Mariam had lost seven of her children and the emotional weight of it affected her throughout her life. The text describes the time she buries her first child (Hosseini 96) and she grieves for months afterwards. Mariam is forced to feel this pain of never having her own child while Rasheed is allowed to have children with Laila and does not suffer the same loss. In Greek mythology, Hera remains faithful to only Zeus while Zeus is known for being the playboy of the Gods and he is free to do whatever or whomever he wants. Mariam has fallen victim to her society’s standards so when she can not seem to meet that standard (by not having a child) then she only sees herself in the way the world says she should, useless. Hosseini, however, would argue that Mariam is extremely important and the weight of her ‘usefulness’ should not be proportionate to the amount of children she can produce. Mariam continues to bear a resemblance to Hera in the sense that the both fall victim to their circumstances. Mariam becomes jealous of the way that Rasheed is treating Laila and retaliates by saying, “ ‘I wouldn’t have fed you and washed you and nursed you if I’d known you were going to turn around and steal my husband’ ” (Hosseini 226). The moment is significant for Mariam because she realizes that she does not have to simply follow the rules that society has put in place for her to follow. Instead, like Hera, she takes matters into her own hands and takes control of her life in a way that was not normal for women at the time. Hosseini uses the moments that Mariam sticks up for herself as heroic feats so the audience can see that women having a voice is a good thing. He trains the audience in a way that makes them want to see the women thrive in a society that treats them as the underdogs. Mariam spent a good portion of her early life being referred to as a harami, a bastard, despite the fact that she played no part in her own creation. Hosseini writes, “It is the creators of the harami who are culpable, not the harami, whose only sin is being born” (Hosseini 4) The line directly addresses how Mariam is not to blame for the inferior way that society views her. The line is the first time that the audience is shown the perspective that women are not to blame for being seen as objects but the community around them should be blamed for thinking of an entire group of people as being so low.
Laila’s role in the story is similar to the goddess Athena in the way that Laila grew up being intelligent enough to realize the societal flaws and she was willing to challenge them in order to change them. Athena was chosen as Zeus’ favorite child, just like Laila is (initially) the favorite of Rasheed. As a part of Rasheed’s constant praising of Laila he says, “You are the queen, the malika, and this is your palace” (Hosseini 233) Laila uses these praises as a way for her to manipulate Rasheed. While she cannot over power him, she does have the ability to stop him from becoming too violent with Mariam. Hosseini added this level of power to show how Laila, even when viewed as her husband’s toy, was trying to use her advantage was trying to overcome the gender stereotype that women could not be powerful. Laila’s manipulation not only shows that she holds power, but it also shows that she has the intelligence that women were not expected to have. The goddess Athena is known for her great knowledge and Laila is as well. Everyone around Laila acknowledges this and her friends tell her, “Laila, you will make us two dummies proud. You’re going to be somebody. I know one day I’ll pick up a newspaper and find your picture on the front page” (Hosseini 412) Laila’s intelligence makes her acutely aware of how the world had been treating women as if they are inferior to men. She uses this knowledge to break free from following the societal standard and putting herself on the same level as the other men in her life. This refusal to be compliant becomes more violent in the final moments that Laila spends with Rasheed. Another common trait that both Laila and Athena share is that they are warriors. In her final battle with her husband, Laila makes the bold choice to strike Rasheed with a drinking glass (Hosseini 347). Laila was aware that she did not physically compare to Rasheed but she struck the blow anyway. Athena is a goddess who knows her worth and Laila is the same. The two women refuse to withstand beatings and the moment causes the audience to understand that women should not have to face struggles such as this. They understand that equality should be given to all of the genders instead of having one gender work for it while another is just given it like equality is a birthday present.
The characters of Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns represent the gods of Greek mythology so that Hosseini can persuade his audience to see the error in ideas that are commonplace in today’s society. Rasheed may seem like the only one with any sort of heavenly aura upon a first read, but once the audience looks closer it will be revealed that Mariam and Laila are stronger than him. Rasheed’s Zeus-like physical strength does not compare to the hardships that Mariam and Laila had to endure. They suffered more losses and fought more emotional battles than Rasheed, all while society told them that they were beneath their husband. To consider these women anything less than gods would be a mistake.
Oppression of Women: A Comparison of A Thousand Splendid Suns and Tess of the D’Ubervilles
Andrea Dworkin, claimed that, ‘Women have been taught that, for us, the earth is flat, and that if we venture out, we will fall off the edge’, this is shown within both novels as the female characters are presented as being controlled within society. Hosseini presents the female characters Laila and Mariam as oppressed within society in A Thousand Splendid Suns, this is shown through a dual narration of Mariam and Laila to show a difference in characterization. Hosseini does this to demonstrate the juxtaposition between both characters, as Mariam is referred to a ‘harami’ within the novel which is the Farsi word for ‘bastard’, whereas Laila comes from a well-respected, educated family and is characterized by her beauty as “she was a pari, a stunner”. Hosseini illustrates the contrast between both women to show that any women will become a victim towards their husband and oppressed in Afghan society. Similarly, within Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Hardy also illustrates Tess as a victim but within Victorian society, as both Alec and Angel take advantage of her due to gender bias, in which Tess is considered to be a “fallen women”. Both novels show a male dominated society where women were oppressed.
Hosseini demonstrates the harsh living situations in Afghanistan where status and wealth was very important within society. In a Thousand Splendid Suns, the time setting took place from the early 1960s to the early 2000s which illustrates the journey of the way women were treated, as throughout the years the treatment of women has become harsher due to the takeover of the Taliban. In England the feminist movement took place which led to change of how women were portrayed and treated within society, in which modern readers would be shocked about the way the characters Mariam and Laila were treated. Hosseini presents the Afghanistan culture within the first chapter as Mariam respects her father more than her mother and speaks highly of him as “she never felt like a harami around him”, this could suggest that her father makes her feel normal, rather than an outcast of society, however it could be argued that Mariam respected her father as it was part of the cultural to norm to respect male figures as they were considered to be dominant. Hosseini reflects the power of male dominance in the first chapter as this is the main theme within the novel, which is shown as a simile “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman”, this demonstrates the superiority of men within the Afghanistan culture, as women would always be at fault in situations even if they were victims of abuse. Afghanistan readers would be able to comprehend Mariam and Laila as victims of society as there are still some cases where women are still being oppressed by their husbands within the Afghanistan culture as it is considered to be a social norm.
Whereas, Hardy presents Tess of the d’Urberville in a Victorian society during the 1800s which was before the feminist movement began, in which women were not treated equally to men. In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Tess falls victim to Alec as he took her away her virginity. But becomes a victim of love as Angel refuses her love as she is no longer considered to be pure. Tess goes against everything she believes in as she accepts her position in society and mentions to Angel that, “you know best what my punishment should be”, this shows that Tess has now become inferior and acknowledges that she will never be an equal. It could be argued that Tess is a representation of women within Victorian society, as men would base judgement on women on the basis of their appearance. This is shown within the second chapter as Tess is illustrated to be a “handsome girl” whom has “a mobile peony mouth and large innocent eyes” the description of Tess could represent how a Victorian woman should be as the word “peony” is a flower which symbolizes purity thus could imply that women should be pure; and is also used to foreshadow the loss of Tess’s virginity. Hardy uses a third person limited narrator in order for the readers to understand the difficulties that Tess endures. Although, it could be suggested that Hardy gives a biased approach within the narration, but he does illustrate Angel’s views and feelings to demonstrate the double standards within society. Chez Zen claims that Tess of the d’Urbervilles is , “one of the most influential and well-revived books in world literature, Tess brought Hardy great fame and honor as well as incurring harsh rebukes from conventional society”, this demonstrates the importance that society has on the oppression of women.
Both Hardy and Hosseini show their female characters to be oppressed within marriage, as marriage was expected within both societies. This is shown in A Thousand Splendid Suns as Hosseini marries off Mariam and Laila at a young age to portray that young girls would be married off to older men as their purpose was to provide men with children. In Afghanistan multi marriages were common, however only men would be able to have multi marriages, as Mariam’s father had “three wives and nine children”, suggesting that women were treated unequally within society and illustrates discrimination towards women as they were unable to have multi marriages. However, it could be argued that Mariam is presented as undesirable in society, as she is constantly referred to a “harami”, but Hosseini also presents Mariam to be infertile, in which she becomes unworthy within the marriage. Therefore, Rasheed decides to marry Laila without considering Mariam’s feelings as she says, “I…I don’t want this”, this conveys that women were not considered equals within society. It could be interpreted that the repetition of “I” suggests hesitation which could imply that Mariam is scared, which is a common emotion that women felt towards their husbands. Laila at the age of fifteen marries Rasheed, which suggests that Rasheed whom is around “sixty or more now”, takes advantage of the situation as Laila has no family to protect her in which she has no choice but to accept the cultural norms in Afghanistan. Hosseini demonstrates the harshness in Afghanistan marriage as Mariam and Laila are physically abused by Rasheed as he, “raised the belt again and this time came at Mariam”, this suggests that the abuse was constant to both women and implies that violence towards women were common within Afghanistan marriage, in which they were unable to avoid, showing their lack of control. Hosseini shows the treatment of women to be oppressed within society especially when the Taliban took over as women were restricted with little control.
Similarly, Hardy illustrates Tess as a victim within her marriage due to a complicated relationship with Alec and Angel. It could be suggested that Hardy demonstrates Tess’s relationship, by the use of journey within the novel, this is because Tess is constantly travelling which symbolizes her journey between both Alec and Angel, both whom takes advantage of Tess due to her sexuality. Alec hurts Tess physically by taking away her virginity this is implied by the description of “practically blank as snow”, the word “practically” suggests that Tess is no longer pure. Hardy makes references of birds, which is a motif within the novel, this is because the bird could be symbolic of Tess as, “hopping of a bird finally died away”, and this reiterates that Tess is no longer innocent and pure, due to the loss of her virginity. It could be interpreted that the bird symbolizes Tess, as the bird is illustrated as no longer free, suggesting it is oppressed. Angel causes Tess psychological pain as their relationship is based on passion in which he refuses her within the marriage. Angel and Tess’s marriage represents double standards within Victorian society, as both Tess and Angel were not pure when they married each other. This is shown when both characters confessed about their past, in which Angel refused to forgive Tess as, “forgiveness does not apply in this case”, this shows the implications that gender has within Victorian society as consequences is only applied to women. This is because, Tess is portrayed as a villain as she is no longer the pure women in which society expects her to be. It could be suggested that Tess is a representation of Victorian women whom becomes victim to the male dominated world. Hardy gives another example of women suffering the consequences of men, this is shown when Tess is blamed for Alec’s actions, “See how you’ve mastered me!”, implying that women were at fault if men would take advantage of them, as the word “mastered”, illustrates an element of power that women have, which is their physical appearance. However, it could be argued that Hosseini no longer presents Mariam and Laila as a victim within Afghanistan society. This is shown when Mariam, “was deciding the course of her own life”, this shows the empowerment that Mariam as she refuses to be controlled and abused by Rasheed. Hosseini illustrates Mariam taking control when she took the “shovel” and, “gave it everything she had”, this demonstrates juxtaposition of power, as Mariam now has the upper hand, in order to prevent Rasheed from having control. Although it could be suggested that the use of pathetic fallacy of “the darkness began to lift”, is used to present the death of Rasheed who represents the “darkness”, this could illustrate that Mariam and Laila will no longer be victims, however it could also foreshadow the punishment that Mariam shall receive. Even though, Hosseini presents Mariam as a strong, powerful woman in Afghan society based on her actions towards Rasheed, this empowerment does not last long as she is punished for her actions. This is because within the Afghanistan society if a woman kills a man then she would receive a public death sentence regardless of the situation. Although, if a man injured or killed his wife then it would be acceptable as women were considered as inferior, this is suggested as the law requires “one male witness but two female ones”, implying that a man’s word is trusted over a woman. Mariam accepts her position within society and accepts the death sentence as she “thought, she should die this way”, it could be interpreted that the death of Mariam is the only way out of a controlled society. Likewise, Hardy presents his character Tess, to take control of the situation and no longer be oppressed within Victorian society. This is shown when Tess decides to no longer be taken advantage by Alec. This is illustrated when Tess murders Alec as, “The dead silence within was broken only by a regular beat”, this metaphor could illustrate the guilt of Tess which is suggested by “regular beat”, although it could also suggest that Tess is afraid of the punishment she would receive. The death of Alec could suggest that the only way that women were able to be empowered within Victorian society by removing the male figure from their life. However, similar to A Thousand Splendid Suns Tess is punished for her actions which was a public death sentence, this could suggest that women were dehumanized as the death of Tess was shown as a form of public entertainment.
In conclusion, both Hardy and Hosseini demonstrate women being oppressed in society despite there being around a 100 years between the publications. Both novels explore similar cultural aspects where a woman should be married and pure before the marriage, as both Laila and Tess were not pure before marriage. It could be interpreted that Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a Victorian tragedy due to the treatment of woman and the way they were oppressed within society. The only way out for Tess being hurt by both Alec and Angel is death, in which Tess has accepted her fate within society. It could be argued that the Afghanistan culture subjugates women more due to the extreme laws that took place during the 20th century in comparison to the way were treated during the 19th century within Victorian society. However, both novels illustrate gender bias, as women were oppressed within society and were discriminated due to their gender.
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Bibliography: Wordsworth Classics Tess of the d’Urbervilles Bloomsbury A Thousand Splendid Suns www.ritsumei.ac.jp/acd/cg/lt/rb/600/600PDF/chen.PDF http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/feminism
Strength Within Struggle
There are certain aspects of the human experience that every one of us can identify with on a certain level. This is what allows us to connect with one another and to develop empathetic and compassionate outlooks. That being said, there are certain common experiences among many of us as well that tend to differ person to person because of our varying outlooks. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, women in the novel share the experience of oppression living in an intensely masochistic Afghan culture. They are repeatedly subjected to violence, both on a physical and also a mental level as they live to cope with the shame that their identities cast upon their person. All of that being said, this is not what the novel is about at its core. It seems that the central focus is instead about the positive resilience of the human spirit. If it were exclusively about the necessity of endurance that women face, it would be a terribly tragic story, but not nearly as spiritually impactful. Hosseini’s use of symbolism and his dynamic diction lent to an overarching theme that was devised to resonate with all readers.
Many of the experiences faced by women in this story are ones that are inconceivably destructive on a number of levels—morally, emotionally, and physically. Mariam and Laila, the two main protagonists, suffer under the custody of a patriarchal superiority using radical rules and legitimizing the abuse of women. The Burqa throughout the novel becomes a sign of oppression and male domination, created under the facade of humility, but truly a means of eliminating the woman as a human being. It limits the woman to a source of seduction and shame, which is only exacerbated by the restrictions imposed on other aspects of their lives. The Taliban is cited announcing over the loudspeaker: “Attention women: you will stay inside your homes at all times… If you go outside, you must be accompanied by a mahram, a male relative. If you are caught alone on the street, you will be beaten and sent home” (144), displaying the perceived complete incompetence that came alone with being a woman. This was not merely a case of inequality; women were treated as if they were pets in need of being leashed.
With all of this being said, women in the novel are constantly identified exclusively by their duties as wives and mothers. They are a mere object of production and they acknowledge that very well. Giti and Hasina, Laila’s friends tell her, “By the time we’re twenty, Giti and I we’ll have pushed out four, five kids each. But you, Laila, you’ll make us two dummies proud. You’re going to be somebody” (92). When Mariam is first pregnant, Rashid is overjoyed by the fact that he is going to have a child- a boy. He rejects the idea that he might have a girl as a child. When Mariam encounters several miscarriages, Rashid no longer drew interest in her. She could not give him a son and so, she was treated as a mere servant. Mariam’s small value as a woman and as a person ceased to exist as she was unable of conceiving.
Certainly, the fact that women are forced to endure is true. That is one of the central aspects of the novel, without doubt. What the novel is truly about, however, is the way that women continue to endure with such a strength and resilience, beyond all of the atrocities and suffering that they have been subjected to. Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the novel is the notion that the two women are able to find strength and love in one another through their struggles. This is hardly enduring, but in fact living a fulfilled and meaningful life, as Miriam states in her last moments as an “abundant peace that washed over her… she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back… This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate belongings” (195). Because of the vitality and hope that the women provide one another, the novel suggests that women have a strong ability to find strength and support in one another. Mariam never would have gained the strength to fight Rasheed if she had not gained such confidence and love from Laila that allowed her to find meaning in this sacrifice. It is only love that can move people to act in these unexpected ways and to move them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with startling heroism. Even Laila’s pregnancy with Aziza allows her to remain positive after she learns about Tariq’s death. Childbirth is painful, and the pain that mothers feel during the various birthing scenes reminds us of the hopeful sacrifices that mothers in Afghanistan make in order to bring new life into the world.
The strength that women find in one another and in the love that they salvage in the darkness allows them not only to overcome their challenges, but also to find peace and flourishing spiritually. Beyond all of their struggles, women are still compared to “the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls” (105), which sheds light on their ability to shine and provide warmth even when they are hidden within the darkness of their homes. The fact that the author chose this as the title really emphasizes the idea that the inner spirits of the women have not in fact been dulled quite as much as it might have seemed to the outside world, because of the warmth that they are able to find within themselves and others. This goes quite beyond the endurance that women are subjected to as they are consistently having to push against these walls. Much of the strength they find is hidden to even the most privileged women of today’s world. Perhaps that is what makes it so incredibly powerful and resonant beyond the borders of Afghanistan, and even beyond the recognition of what it really means to have to fight.
The Lasting Effects of Abuse in Miriam’s Life
Miriam, a main character in the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, experiences extreme physical, mental, and sexual abuse from virtually every authority figure in her life. Using Hosseini’s book and Erik Erickon’s Psychosocial stages of development, this essay will explore not only the acts of abuse but their lasting effect on her behavior and definition of self.Miriam’s mother, having given birth to her and spending the most consecutive time with her, effected Miriam the most and established the damaging patterns of thought and behavior that would haunt her for the rest of her life. According to Erikson, her mother damaged two major developmental stages of her life. The first begins at eighteen months, where the child attempts to establish self confidence and begins to experience shame. On the first page of the story, Nana expresses distain, contempt, and a borderline hatred of her own daughter by calling her a “clumsy little harami (bastard)’…’as if she were saying a cuss word.” (Hosseini,4) She then repeatedly told her daughter that being a harami was so horrible that people would view her as nonhuman or a shameful person who should hide from society. This instilled in Miriam an inferiority complex, sense of shame, and anxiety about something she had no control over, her birth. Nana even states that it would have been better if Miriam’s grandfather had killed them while Nana was pregnant so that Miriam wouldn’t have to bare the shame and Nana wouldn’t have to live with the bitterness and emotional pain caused by illegitimate pregnancy. Nana’s words become negative scripts that replay in her head later in life, as she leaves Herat for her new home, making it difficult for her to interact with others in public or enjoy time spent outside of the house.The second stage occurs from age six, as Miriam begins establishing her ego and a sense of purpose, according to Erikson. However, Nana mocked her child’s existence, belief in her father and his stories, and her dreams of joining Jahlil’s family. Nana reinforces these assaults against Miriam’s ego by repeatedly discounting her father’s stories and replacing them with a darker reality that is aimed at destroying her father’s place in her heart. Moreover, she threatens her child’s attempts at change, advancement, and purpose by threatening suicide if Miriam were to leave her in search of a life with Jahlil. However, when her threat of suicide turns to morbid action, Miriam is left with an emotional scar and sense of responsibility that traumatically effects her self esteem, throws her into a deep depression, and cements her mother’s rampage of abuse into her mind permanently. After all, it would be difficult to develop of a sense of self, purpose, and ego if you believed that your family thought you were a “a pokeroot, a mugworm’…’and you weren’t even born yet”(Hosseini, 8)Although Nana was extremely abusive, Jahlil’s lies, childish disregard for his daughter’s physical and emotional welfare, and lack of ownership and pride for his own daughter would prove truly damaging to Miriam’s growth and emotional development. According to Erikson, Jahlil is guilty of damaging two different stages in Miriams life: Identity and Role Confusion and Intimacy and Solidarity. Despite the fact that Jahlil only visited once a week, Miriam’s identity revolved around being her father’s child and regaining her rightful place in her father’s home. She even created a rock game to allow her to visually depict everyone’s place in her father’s heart, so that she could physically place herself with them. Due to Jahlil’s stories, Miriam believed that he had once taken her to spectacular place and treated her with love, pride, and belonging; therefore, this fueled her belief that she would once again re-attain her place in his family and heart. However, by refusing to see Miriam when she came to visit and allowing her to sleep outside like a dog, he broke her heart and sense of self. Disregarding her emotions and physical safety, he shattered her identity as a beloved daughter or welcomed member of his family. This enabled Nana’s abusive labels and depictions of Miriam’s existence to take root and form her new sense of self. Thus, Miriam learned to define herself by the abusive statements of others.On a deeper level, Jahlil’s betrayal and lies forever mar Miriam’s ability to experience intimacy and trust with men. Repeatedly, Jahlil makes promises that he had no intention of keeping. Although the lies are meant to raise his daughter’s spirits and gain favor with her, their lack of action proves damaging to her self esteem, as promises made to his legitimate children are kept. She had bought into his illusions and lies; therefore, she questioned how she could ever trust a man’s kindness or words again. As a result, she hides from Rasheed during the first small portion of their marriage, avoiding contact as much as possible. Furthermore, she gave her father all the trust and love in her heart; therefore, when he married her off to an abusive man against her will and with no consideration for her feelings or well being, he broke her ability to freely give that type of intimate love to others. This immortalizes her mother’s threat that men are cold hearted, dangerous, and cannot be trusted, thus causing Miriam a great deal of anxiety throughout her life. One might even argue that she loses the ability to love herself, after her mother showed continuing contempt for her and her father showed a lack of regard for her well being, so one could easily see how she comes to mistrust her own thoughts and self love. Perhaps this is the reason why she eventually agrees to marry Rasheed and does not run away despite his horrific acts of abuse.Resheed was the most disappointing and abusive person in Miriam’s life, as his abuse was sexual, mental, and definitely physical. Going into their marriage, Miriam was guarded and mistrustful. But, through kindness and patience, Resheed gained Miriam’s trust, respect, and admiration. However, at the first test of honor, Miriam’s miscarriage, he dropped all pretences and revealed himself as a truly abusive man whose behavior spirals out of control. He is the second man in Miriam’s life that spoke of kindness and made great promises but in the end showed her only pain and heartache. Because she was still struggling with Erikson’s stage of Intimacy, she kept trying to making excuses for his behavior and constantly trying to please him. Unfortunately, her efforts result in horrific acts of violence such as making her chew rocks until her teeth break and bleed to simply telling her how unsatisfied he was with her meal and life in general. Furthermore, Rasheed damaged her ability to enjoy intimacy during their first sexual encounter and all that followed. He didn’t ask her if she wanted to have intercourse. He didn’t ask if he was hurting her. He just forced himself on her, despite the fact that she clearly stated that she didn’t want to have sex. She even describes her later sexual experiences as violent and painful. Had her first sexual experience been more like Laila’s, she might have enjoyed the pleasure that comes from “coup” as Hosseini puts it. Early in Miriam’s marriage, Rasheed informs her that she is to be covered by traditional clothing at all times, thus hidden from the world. Just like her father hid her mother and her away in a remote Kalba, her own husband hides her away by ensuring that the world never looks upon her face. Although his intention is to control her and prevent any outside influences on their marriage or life, this action only further damages Miriam’s already fragile ego and sense of self.Despite all of the abuse Miriam experiences, she is still able to master her final life stage with grace and dignity. Not surprisingly, it’s the only stage that one must internally establish and requires no outside confirmation to achieve. Erikson’s final stage is Despair vs. Integrity. In short, Miriam could have chosen to give up and live her days with no purpose, sense of self, or ability to function amidst her despair, but she didn’t. Rather, she choose to overcome her own tragedies and sadness and help Laila raise her children. This meant giving unconditional love that was never shown to her. Although the negative scripts and impressions followed her throughout her life, in the end, they didn’t define her. She was thus able to break the chain of abuse and find love. Laila did love Miriam and would cherish her memories always.In conclusion, Miriam, like many abused children, experienced hardship and heartache throughout many of the stages of her life. Although she was damaged and experienced a great deal of anxiety, shame, and emotional/physical pain, she never allowed her hardship to define her. She didn’t find love from a male or an authority figure – rather, she healed and found love within herself and from a friend. Work CitedHosseini, Khaleo.2007.A Thousand Splendid Suns.Penguin Group Inc. NY:NY.Pg.1-415Erickson, Eric.1830.The Eric Erickson Reader.edited. Robert Cole. Abris Publishing.NY:NY.Online Charts
Pride and Afghanistans
When pride is prioritized, morality is compromised at the expense of others. Despite this being a desparingly unfortunate scenario, this case appears more often than one would think. As shown in the bildungsroman The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, pride becomes an obstacle when one’s reputation is threatened. For this reason, the characters mirror the way of human nature, often sacrificing the quality of life for others for the sake of his or her pride.
Family approval is essential in Afghanistan culture in order to feel proud. Throughout the novel, Amir strives for reverence from his bigger-than-life Baba, who always said the only sin was theft. To Amir, gaining his father’s acceptance was the only way for him to obtain pride and self-worth. As Amir contemplates Baba’s words, he concludes that “Baba hated me [Amir] a little…I [Amir] had killed his beloved wife, his beautiful princess” (Hosseini 19). Amir believes he cost Baba a wife, and he could never live up to the standards Baba had set. Amir views Baba as a role model, whom he wished would be proud of him. Attempting to gain Baba’s respect, Amir wins the kite tournament and allows Hassan to get raped in order to protect a kite. He justifies his actions by reasoning, “Hassan was the price I [Amir] had to pay, the lamb I [Amir] had to slay, to win Baba. Was it a fair price?” (77). Torn between two choices, Amir contemplates whether being loyal to his friend or attaining recognition from Baba is more important. Amir’s desire for Baba’s approval causes him to betray his best friend. Hassan is compared to a lamb, alluding to the holiday Eid al-Qurban, when animals are sacrificed for a higher power. In this case, Hassan is the sacrifice Amir makes for his father’s approval. As Amir struggles to become a child Baba could be proud of, he destroys his friendships along the way.
In a different way, Hosseini shows pride to be an impediment when Baba willingly forfeits truth for the sake of his honor. In the story, Baba willingly withholds the truth from others because he does not want others to view him as an adulteress. When Rahim Khan tells Amir that Hassan was his half-brother, Amir realizes Baba was, “a thief of the worst kind, because the things he’d stolen had been sacred: from me [Amir] the right to know I [Amir] had a brother, from Hassan his identity, and from Ali his honor. His nang. His namoos” (225). Because Baba was ashamed of his sins, he kept them secret, costing others their right to the truth. After Amir’s fight with Assef, he learns how Baba saw him, “Amir, the socially legitimate half, the half that represented the riches he [Baba] had inherited and the sin-with-impunity privileges that came with them” (301). Baba took his anger out on Amir because Amir represented what he could have but did not give Hassan. Although Baba had the potential to change Hassan’s life for the better, he was too afraid of tarnishing his reputation. Instead, Hassan was born into a Hazara life filled with violence, discrimination, and injustice. Baba ultimately chooses his ego over his children. Baba’s attempt to maintain his pride robs Hassan and Amir of a better quality of life.
Although virtually everyone strives to be prideful, it tends to corrupt. As seen in The Kite Runner, when Amir becomes devoted to making Baba proud, he also wrecks his friendship. Similarly, Baba chooses to spare his image, robbing Hassan of the opportunities that came with being on the favored end of the social pyramid. Not only did both Amir and Baba deprive happiness from their loved ones, but they also endured years of guilt. The inclusion of the Amir and Baba’s faults imply that prioritizing pride comes with a price.
Significantly, Khaled Hosseini includes this story largely because it mirrors the nature of society. Although not always as high stakes as the stakes of the characters in the story, people all over the world act selfishly, without realizing its detrimental effects on others. Using the backdrop of war, rape, and death, Hosseini emphasizes how one’s individual actions not only affect him or herself but also others, often more severely. Hosseini teaches his audience that despite the tempting urge to take the easier path in front of him or her, he or she needs to think about the consequences to his or her actions. To do this, though not an easy thing, provides not only the victim, but also the perpetrator a better quality of life, free of unnecessary guilt.
Overcoming the Ultimate Tragedy: Understanding ‘Life Is Beautiful’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’
As a victimized African-American man living in America during a time of discrimination, Martin Luther King, Jr’s influential words are still repeated fifty years later: “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” There is truth in this message, as although a target cannot control what a tormentor does, he can change his position and perspective on the circumstance. Khaled Hosseini and Roberto Benigni tell the story of protagonists who have to endure opposition from entire societies. In turn, they realize that they need to overcome the criticism in order to escape from the negativity. Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns and Benigni’s Life is Beautiful reveal that people rely on their own bravery as well as reassurance from those they love in times of oppression, seen through Laila and Guido’s courage to take action on a situation and support received from others during harsh conditions.
Laila’s boldness in trying to escape from Rasheed with Mariam and the kids as well as Guido’s daring move to sneak into the women’s camp prove that a human will take matters into their own hands in search of a positive outcome. After enduring abusive effects of her marriage with Rasheed for several years, Laila decides to attempt to flee to Pakistan in order to get away from the violence. In the middle of her getaway, “Laila felt giddy and bold. She had another of those little sparks of euphoria, and when a stray dog with yellow eyes limped by, Laila leaned forward and pet its back” (Hosseini 262). The “euphoria” Laila feels shows that in spite of being a patronized Afghan woman, her initiative brings a moment of joy. Laila feels this boldness so clearly because without her attempt to try and change her repressive position in society, she would keep suffering. Hosseini further develops the hope of the situation when a “stray dog with yellow eyes limp[s] by”. The helplessness of the dog is replaced with encouragement when Laila pets it, demonstrating that Laila feels optimistic and confident about her decision. Her courageous act opposes the common views on subordinate woman living in Afghanistan, but is needed in order to take herself out of that subordinance.
Likewise, in Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, Guido takes a bold move in trying to save his family while in a concentration camp during World War II. After being told that the war has ended, he tells his son, Joshua, to hide. Guido then puts a rag over his head to look like a woman and sneaks into the female side of the camp to warn his wife, Dora, not to get on any trucks, which he was told leave with people but come back empty. While the large number of people that boarded the trucks may have known they would be killed eventually, Guido realizes that he would rather die trying to keep his family together than succumb to the soldiers’ injustice. He understands that the only way to keep his wife and son alive is to find a way to communicate with them himself. Guido’s quick thinking and excited, youthful tone when explaining what is happening to Joshua are what saves his family from being killed. Although Guido ends up sacrificing his life for the safety of his wife and son, his act of bravery helps them escape the severe oppression during the war. Both Laila and Guido demonstrate that courage is an essential part in overcoming opposition, as they are both discriminated against for their gender or religion.
A person needs support from others during hardships and suffering, as seen when Mariam defends and gives motherly advice to Laila and Joshua provides Guido with the motivation to stay safe and alive. In the middle of Laila’s brutal beating by Rasheed caused by his jealousy of her relationship with Tariq, Mariam intervenes. Mariam’s reasoning includes that “had [she] been certain that he would be satisfied with shooting only her, that there was a chance he would spare Laila, she might have dropped the shovel. But in Rasheed’s eyes she saw murder for them both” (349). Rasheed’s visions of “murder” for the two women prove the extremity of the danger they were in, which leads to the undoubted support of Mariam to Laila, as Laila is like a daughter to her. Mariam knew that when she brought the shovel down, she would be severely punished for her action. However, she and Laila had suffered together and stuck by each other through the pain the whole time. Mariam’s protection gave Laila a glimpse of reassurance, since she confirmed that the cause of their suffering would no longer be able to hurt them. Aside from giving Laila physical safety, Mariam also provides Laila with emotional advice and comfort when deciding what to do after Rasheed was killed: “Mariam twiddled a strand of Laila’s hair, untangled a stubborn curl. ‘For me, it ends here. There’s nothing more I want…It’s all right, Laila jo. This is all right. Don’t be sad’” (358). Mariam’s actions of affection and repetition of “it’s all right” illustrate that she is acting as a mother to Laila during the stressful position that they’re both in. This ultimately helps to calm Laila down and allow her to think rationally as to what is the best option for the well-being of her children. Without the guidance of Mariam, it is likely that Laila could have made a rash decision regarding where they will go that would have harmed herself and her children. Her survival and the happiness of her future was directly related to the support received from Mariam.
Similarly, without the intent to, Joshua supports his dad throughout their time at the concentration camp by taking belief in Guido’s “game”. After boarding a train with other Jews on their way to camps, Joshua asks his father where they are going. It is Guido’s desire to preserve Joshua’s innocence and childhood that leads him to say they are going on a trip for his birthday. One rule leads to another, and soon Joshua is living in a fantasy game of points and tanks when his reality is a deathtrap. Joshua’s ability to absorb Guido’s lies and keep a relatively positive attitude drives Guido to take extra caution to stay alive. Since the Jews were being tortured and deprived of their humanity, it could have been easy for Guido to lose will if it were not for his family to protect. During these harsh conditions, it was especially beneficial to Guido to have Joshua as a source of inspiration to help him make something positive from a inevitably negative situation. Although provided in different forms, Laila and Guido both have support from the people they love to keep fighting through the opposition that the face, ultimately helping them better tolerate their conflicts.
While the plots of the two works are contrasting in the gender and age of the protagonist, Hosseini and Benigni both demonstrate the idea that people can be self-sufficient to protect themselves and others, but also can rely on the support from others when faced with discrimination. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, Laila uses her own plans when she is confident and excited about her decision, but uses Mariam’s advice when she is not able to think straight. Guido in Life is Beautiful also takes actions of bravery and risk when trying to prevent separation of his family and uses his son’s innocence as a motivator to stay strong. The brutal oppression that the protagonists were faced with are less common, but still prevalent in today’s society. There are many countries, such as Afghanistan, where women still have fewer rights and are discriminated against with job opportunities. However, the “good” people’s spirits can not be broken if they do not let silence overpower the “bad” people’s cruelty.