The power and struggle of women in A thousand splendid suns
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.
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