Study Guide

A Thousand Splendid Suns Women and Femininity

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Women and Femininity

Part 1

Learn this now and learn this well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man's accusing finger always finds a woman. (1.1.26)

These words become a refrain for Mariam as she gets older. It's hard to argue with the logic, at least given Mariam's particular situation. Jalil shifts the burden of Mariam onto Nana, and Rasheed blames Mariam for everything that goes wrong in his life.

The women in this part of Kabul were a different breed from the women in the poorer neighborhoods—like the one where she and Rasheed lived, where so many of the women covered fully. (1.11.19)

These women are the hipsters of Kabul. Mariam has had traditional gender roles ingrained in her for her entire life, and that's to say nothing of the social stigma she feels as a harami. For a country girl like Mariam, these modern women represent freedom.

A man's heart is a wretched, wretched thing, Mariam. It isn't like a mother's womb. It won't bleed, it won't stretch to make room for you. (1.5.25)

This passage shows the difference between men and women in A Thousand Splendid Suns. Most of the men in the book are rigid and uncompromising, especially where women are concerned. On the other hand, the females of the novel—Mariam, Laila, and Aziza—embody the ability of women to change and adapt.

She remembered Nana saying once that each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world […] As a reminder of how women like us suffer, she'd said. How quietly we endure all that falls upon us. (1.13.37)

Mariam encounters an insane amount of hardship during her life, but she never becomes jaded, mean, or cruel—or, at least, not for very long. In fact, Mariam doesn't even lash out against Rasheed until he almost kills Laila. Talk about making up for lost time: that snowflake turned into an avalanche.

Part 2

Marriage can wait, education cannot. You can be anything you want, Laila. I also know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more. (2.16.56)

This advice from Laila's father shows his modern views on women's rights. And you know what? He's right. As we see at the end of the novel, women like Laila are the ones who lead the charge to rebuild Afghanistan.

Part 3

Mariam heard the answer in his laugh: that in the eyes of the Taliban, being a communist and the leader of the dreaded KHAD made Najibullah only slightly more contemptible than a woman. (3.37.58)

Things change big time when the Taliban takes power. It might make sense that the members of the new government goes after the leaders that preceded them, but the Taliban's immediate assault on women's rights reveals something far more troubling.

Mariam saw now the sacrifices a mother made. Decency was but one. (3.39.25)

Again, we see that the women of the novel are rarely recognized for their sacrifices. Mariam realizes this, and the insight helps her make peace with her own mother. More interestingly, it highlights how Mariam and Laila become like mother and daughter themselves.

In Laila's dream, she and Mariam are out behind the toolshed digging again. But, this time, it's Aziza they're lowering into the ground. (3.40.63)

This dream comes soon after the Taliban begins raiding homes for illegal media. Mariam and Laila had recently buried their TV in the backyard, and Laila's dream of burying Aziza comes soon after. It reveals Laila's unease at being party to the Taliban's blatant oppression of women.

Had she ever been a deceitful wife? she asked herself. A complacent wife? A dishonorable woman? Discreditable? Vulgar? What harmful thing had she willfully done to this man to warrant his malice, his continual assaults, the relish with which he tormented her? (3.45.22)

As is often the case with victims of domestic violence, Mariam believes that she is somehow to blame for the abuse. It takes a long time—and an attempted murder—for Mariam to realize that it's not her fault. It's a powerful moment.

Part 4

Already Laila sees something behind this young girl's eyes, something deep in her core, that neither Rasheed nor the Taliban will be able to break. Something as hard and unyielding as a block of limestone. (4.50.112)

This image is a great example of the novel's view of women. In the novel, women aren't weak or needy. On the contrary, the women are shown as the strongest individuals in the novel, capable of enduring far more than the male characters.

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