The Women in a Thousand Splendid Suns

“Ultimately, the women in A Thousand Splendid Suns accept and endure the traditional gender norms in Afghan society.” Explore this view according to Khaled Hosseini’s representation of women in his novel. Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns takes place over different periods of time in Afghanistan, portraying the deeply entrenched views stemming from patriarchy that became the norm during the Taliban rule. The women presented in the novel display many examples of endurance and acceptance of their living situation but they ultimately rebel and try to improve their lives or their loved ones’ lives.

To begin with, the first character introduced in the novel is Mariam; a young, strong, persistent girl. Hosseini uses flashbacks of Mariam’s childhood to show these qualities which fade away as the novel progresses. However, it is significant to note how her early years shaped her outlook. Growing up, her mother (Nana), constantly reminded her that she was a ‘harami’ and that she will never be anything more. She also tells her that there is “only one skill a woman like you and me needs in life [….] and it’s this, tahamul. Endure”. This conveys how the quality of endurance is something that has been inherently sewn into Mariam’s subconscious from the very early moments of her childhood. It was something that she need not be taught in school; but a ‘skill’ learnt by all the hardships and suffrage she would face in her life.

Furthermore, Nana says “I wish my father had the stomach to sharpen one of his knives and do the honorable thing.” This portrays the exclusion and shame single mothers experience in late 1900s Afghanistan. She felt like this did not only ruin her reputation and set the path for the life she will lead, but it also damaged her father’s name. Giving birth out of wedlock has caused her to accept to live the rest of her life with an immense amount of disgrace causing her isolation from everyone else, represented by her little cot outside Herrat. Therefore, Hosseini displays Nana as an embodiment of endurance as she gives in to this lifestyle, believing that it will never get better.

Moreover, Hosseini’s characterisation of Mariam through the years emphasises the development of her best quality: endurance. When she grows up and witnesses Laila’s experience with giving birth, she comes to the realisation of how much a mother can endure for her own daughter by succumbing to the traditional norms who mistreat, undermine and reject unmarried mothers as Laila marries Rasheed to protect herself and her daughter. Similarly, Nana chose to raise Mariam, not give her away and love her ‘in her own way’. This is highlighted in “Nana had endured the shame of bearing a harami, had shaped her life around the thankless task of raising Mariam.”

Mariam does not only endure once she is married but she also starts trying to make the best of her current situation and starts thinking positively. In an article for The Guardian, Author Natasha Walter stated that ‘a tentative hopefulness begins to grow in Mariam that she may be able to win some affection from her husband, especially when she becomes pregnant.” Mariam started to think that maybe her life will improve and that she might find true happiness at last. However, through her miscarriages Hosseini portrays that there are ‘societies where women are only valued for reproduction’ and that once Mariam has ‘suffered a series of miscarriages, Mariam’s marriage becomes a prison’ as Walter emphasises. In the novel, this is illustrated in “Mariam was afraid. She lived in fear of his shifting moods.”