Study Guide

A Thousand Splendid Suns Themes

By Khaled Hosseini

  • Love

    Talk about finding love in a hopeless place. The characters of A Thousand Splendid Suns are wounded in wars, stuck in abusive relationships, and rejected by their families. They have to struggle every day to survive. How do they get through it? It's simple: love. It might sound clichéd, but love proves to be their saving grace.

    Questions About Love

    1. How does Mariam's love for Laila and Aziza transform her as a character?
    2. How does Mariam's status as a harami prevent her from having loving relationships?
    3. What societal pressures prevent Jalil from truly showing Mariam that he loves her? How does he overcome those pressures?
    4. What sort of imagery does Hosseini use to describe love?

    Chew on This

    All you need is love—really. The characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns learn that the only refuge from a harsh, uncompromising world is the love between individuals.

    The one enemy of love, according to the novel, is power. It doesn't matter if it's on a small scale or a big one—power will suffocate love at every turn.

  • Warfare

    War! Hoo! Hah! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! A Thousand Splendid Suns is defined by war, but that doesn't mean it has to like it. The novel does not shy from showing you the horrible reality of war and its effect on regular people, but it's not a hopeless tale. Instead, it's concerned with how people manage to endure despite the horrors that surround them. War is tough, sure, but people are tougher.

    Questions About Warfare

    1. What internal tensions cause infighting among the Mujahideen?
    2. How does the war affect the city of Kabul? How are its people changed by the conflict?
    3. How is Mammy's view of the war shaped by Ahmad and Noor's participation?
    4. Why does Laila remain skeptical about the outcome of the American invasion?

    Chew on This

    In A Thousand Splendid Suns, all war is inherently evil, and even so-called "just wars" can end up causing more harm than good.

    The novel shows why revolutionary wars usually fail. Different political and cultural factions can come together in the face of a common enemy, but those alliances quickly fall apart once the common enemy is gone.

  • Women and Femininity

    If there's one subject that A Thousand Splendid Suns focuses on, it's the nature of women. Laila and Mariam live through a rough period for women's rights in Afghanistan. They're controlled by the government, treated as property by their husbands, and forbidden from taking part in society. Yet, through their strength and resilience, the two women are able to overcome these obstacles. It might not always be pretty, but that's the point. The women in the novel aren't like Princess Peach waiting for their Mario—they're incredibly tough women trying to take control of their own lives.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. How do the differences between Mariam and Laila's upbringings affect their views on women's place in society?
    2. How do the lives of women change during the different regimes in Afghanistan?
    3. Based on the events of the novel, would you say that Nana's advice on the relationship between women and men is true? Why or why not?
    4. How does the novel view motherhood?

    Chew on This

    While many novels define femininity as soft or sensitive, A Thousand Splendid Suns uses characters like Mariam and Laila to show that femininity is actually defined by inner strength and courage.

    A Thousand Splendid Suns argues that men's fear of women does not only damage the individuals involved, but also society as a whole.

  • Poverty

    Poverty becomes a crippling problem in A Thousand Splendid Suns. We see its psychological effects on characters like Rasheed and Aziza. Characters that used to be vibrant and energetic, like Zalmai, become lethargic and inactive as they suffer through poverty.

    That's not to say the novel is all about being broke. Sure, we see the effects of systemic poverty, with even hospitals desperately short on cash, but we also see how war only makes the situation worse. In the end, it's only the strength of the human spirit that gets the characters in this novel through all the hardship.

    Questions About Poverty

    1. What psychological effects does poverty have on Aziza?
    2. How did Rasheed's loss of his shop change him? How does it affect his relationship with the other characters?
    3. What effects does widespread poverty have on Kabul as a whole?
    4. What causes Kabul's economic collapse?

    Chew on This

    Poverty is represented like a disease in A Thousand Splendid Suns. The experience of living in impoverished circumstances has undeniable physical and psychological effects on those involved.

    Rasheed and the Taliban—two representations of corrupt male authority—use the fear of poverty to maintain control over women.

  • Visions of Afghanistan

    Like The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a love letter from Khaled Hosseini to his birthplace of Afghanistan. Although Hosseini left the country for America as a child, his fiction remains focused on the country of his youth. Hosseini has a great admiration for his country's rich artistic and cultural legacy, but he's not afraid to criticize the things that he perceives as problems.

    Questions About Visions of Afghanistan

    1. What are the cultural differences between rural and urban Afghanistan?
    2. What are the relationships between the different ethnic groups who live in Afghanistan?
    3. What are the similarities and differences between the ways Kabul and Herat are described?
    4. How do the cultural and regional differences between the various main characters affect their relationships?

    Chew on This

    Hosseini suggests that Afghans must cast aside their ethnic differences in favor of broader nationalism to rebuild a new Afghanistan.

    A Thousand Splendid Suns defines the major cultural conflict of Afghanistan as the tension between conservative rural communities and modern cities.

  • Power

    For once, we have to agree with Kanye—no one man should have all that power. A Thousand Splendid Suns is filled with bad dudes who prey on the weak. For some, like Rasheed, this means using violence and manipulation to hold power over a few individuals. For others, like the Taliban, it's about keeping a whole country of people under your fist. In both instances, however, we see that power can be defeated. It certainly isn't easy, but the only thing that can defeat overwhelming power and violence is love.

    Questions About Power

    1. How does Rasheed maintain a hold on Mariam for so long? How does she ultimately break free?
    2. Why does the Taliban focus on maintaining cultural control?
    3. How does Laila react to individuals or organizations having power over her?
    4. How do the people of Kabul, outside of the main characters, respond the overbearing power of the Taliban?

    Chew on This

    The novel suggests that power depends on instilling fear, whether of physical violence or emotional pain, in others.

    In A Thousand Splendid Suns, the Taliban uses its moral power to prevent women from partaking in any degree of public life; this keeps them from speaking out against their oppression.

  • Education

    A Thousand Splendid Suns talks a lot about the importance of education. Yes, we all know that school isn't always the most fun thing in the world, but characters like Laila have to struggle just to get a high school education. First off, there's a war going on, which makes walking to school a dangerous prospect. There's also the pressure against girls going to school and getting educated. Luckily, characters like Laila and Babi know the importance of education and overcome these hurdles whenever they reach them.

    Questions About Education

    1. What is the Soviet attitude towards education? How does it compare to the Taliban's view?
    2. How did Laila and Mariam's childhoods differ in terms of their families' views on education?
    3. How do the different ethnic groups of the novel view the importance of education?
    4. What sorts of challenges do girls face when trying to get an education?

    Chew on This

    Women are faced with immense social pressure against getting educated in A Thousand Splendid Suns, but the novel suggests that this ends up just hurting the country as a whole.

    The Taliban's decision to ban women from going to school is, in effect, a response from conservative groups in Afghanistan to the Soviet-led push for greater access to education.

  • Family

    Nobody loves his or her family all of the time. That's just a fact of life. Despite this, A Thousand Splendid Suns suggests that there's no one more important than your family. The novel also suggests that the concept of "family" extends beyond blood relatives. Think about how Mariam and Laila develop a mother-daughter relationship, or think about the bond between Tariq and Zalmai that begins to grow at the end of the novel. Sometimes family is your blood, and sometimes it isn't—but your family, however you define it, is always at the center of your life.

    Questions About Family

    1. What are the similarities and differences between Laila and Mariam's relationships with their mothers?
    2. How does Mariam's status as a harami isolate her from a normal family life? How does she eventually overcome that stigma?
    3. Is Mammy right to be upset with Babi over what happened to Ahmad and Noor? Why or why not?
    4. How does Laila's love for her children change her?

    Chew on This

    A Thousand Splendid Suns sometimes portrays family as a burden, but it always portrays it as a burden worth carrying.

    The novel doesn't limit the concept of "family" to just blood relatives. On the contrary, Mariam and Laila's mother-daughter relationship shows that other people can fulfill familial roles.