Barely over the age of 14, Huma’s life drastically changed when her parents arranged for her to marry a man old enough to be her father. They set a specific date for the marriage to take place and began the process of preparation for the wedding day. Huma’s fiancé would frequently visit her as the days leading up to their marriage counted down. One day, her entire life turned upside down when he arrived at her house covered in blood. He proceeded to drag Huma from her home, while Huma’s mother screamed and pleaded for him to release her. Huma’s fiancé locked her away for over two months, and during that time he tortured and raped her. Eventually, the wedding day arrived, and the societal standards forced her to marry the man who stole her rights, freedoms, and life.
Even after the wedding day passed, Huma’s daily torture never ceased. Over the years of their marriage, her husband continued to persecute her in the most inconceivable ways. Ripping fingernails, breaking bones, and burnings were only the beginning of the methods that he brought against her. After one ferocious incident, Huma’s family rushed her to the hospital and later discharged back to her own family’s home. Only after a short grace period, her husband’s brothers asked her to return; promising they would take care of her and restrict her husband from carrying out further violence. Huma trust them and returned with them, soon to discover the her terrible mistake. He began beating her immediately, causing her to lose an eyelid. Her sister-in-law later informed Huma that her husband dug a grave and planned on killing her within the next couple of days.
Huma’s story represents merely one of the millions of women who cope daily with the atrocities occurring in the country of Afghanistan. This story assists in introducing the roles women play in society and how they have changed and evolved into something completely new than those of our ancestors. Today, feminism is blossoming into a prominent aspect of the Western World due to women striving to obtain equality, proving that women should no longer be distinguished as the inferior gender, but rather a coequal.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini revolves around two female characters from Afghanistan, Mariam and Laila. Hosseini divides the book into four parts by dedicating Part 1 to Mariam and Part 2 to Laila, while bringing the characters together in Parts 3 and 4. Mariam spent her entire life being degraded, from being a disgrace for being a child out of wedlock to being abused daily by the man that society forced her to marry at a young age. Laila, on the other hand, grew up loved and treasured; standing out due to her striking blonde hair. She started out as a hopeless romantic, yet her life changed when her parents were killed by a stray bomb and she is forced to marry the same man as Mariam. The two women must stay together to make it through the abuse, war, and death in their lives.
Khaled Hosseini’s story introduces multiple themes that display a connection to women’s roles in society, but rather than looking at women from the United States or Europe, he takes on the role of women from the Afghan society. The most prominent themes within the novel are the restriction of women’s education and the controversies that come with it, as well as, abuse and brutality towards others. The book allows the plot to come to life, permitting readers to experience these themes that often were veiled within the story line.
Education is generally portrayed as a means of conveying values, manners, knowledge, and skills from one generation to another. This process and necessity has existed in most to all societies prior to the educational systems, schools, and institutions that are displayed today. Impacted by different cultures and advances throughout the world, education has become distinct due to location, causing each school system unique from one another. The theme of education being necessary in women’s lives was quite significant due to being connected with the oppression of women within the country of Afghanistan.
In the novel, readers are able to learn that Afghan women have always possessed some sort of educational restriction, yet with the rise of it became more strict, and opportunities to receive it became sparse. The ongoing war described in A Thousand Splendid Suns plays a large role in the limitation due to different laws and rules being set by overpowering authorities.
After the laws and rules set for education changed, citizens – especially women – were provided two options: remaining uneducated for the remainder of their lives, practically becoming useless in the work field, deprived of important materials like basic knowledge, and being unaware of the outside world; or breaking the law to obtain their education. This option leads to the large risk of the women being punished by their husbands, the government, or both. This began the inner controversy within many women’s hearts due to the fact that they held the mindset of wanting to be seen as equal individuals and “deserving of all happiness and simple prosperity” (Hosseini 315).
A Thousand Splendid Suns provides fantastic description of the division of sides or beliefs on if women should be considered equal individuals by allowing them to obtain the knowledge provided by school. Laila’s father, Hakim, is a prominent example of the one side’s belief that women’s education is significant in how the world functions. Readers are able to see his persistence in this belief, especially when pushing his daughter, Laila, to be the best that she can. Hakim reminds his daughter time and time again that “Marriage can wait, education cannot…When this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance” (114). Hakim realized that without the contribution of women’s labor in society, success would be truly difficult, if impossible, to acquire. Though he possesses intelligence and inspires respect, Afghan society displayed Laila’s father as a “soft [man]” due to how he treated the females in his family as equals, which is seen as him “losing control” (70).
The other side opposes Hakim’s belief, thinking that women don’t deserve education due to being utterly inferior to men in all ways. By forcing them to stay at home, women gradually “didn’t need” education because they would be spending their entire life inside the house doing chores, having children, etc. One spin off of this belief was spoken by Mariam’s mother when she stated, “What’s the sense schooling a girl like you? It’s like shining a spittoon…There is…only one skill a woman like you and me needs in life, and they don’t teach it in school…and it’s this: endure” (18). Mariam’s mother’s statement started out sounding like she opposed women’s rights, yet it gradually twists into words of perseverance. Rather than believing women are undeserving of educational benefits, she clung to the belief that it’s going to be difficult to obtain at the moment, so all women need to do is keep their tenacity. Without endurance, there seemingly exists no chance of education in the future of Afghan women and their daily tribulations will continue.
Abuse proceeded to be the most difficult theme to witness in the novel. It’s beyond imagination when reading about the suffering that women, both fictional and in reality, are experiencing. Due to A Thousand Splendid Suns being told from the perspectives of Mariam and Laila, the most obvious example was shown by their husband, Rasheed. The two wives lived years on end terrified of the man that they were forced to marry due to “some minor thing that would infuriate him…[N]o matter what [they] did to please him, no matter how thoroughly [they] submitted to his wants and demands, it wasn’t enough” (99). As told in the quote, whatever they did to please Rasheed never met his high set standards, though he never clearly explains what they are. The worst aspect of this theme is the graphic detail that Khaled Hosseini goes into in describing the appalling horrors of spousal abuse in Afghanistan’s culture. Both Mariam and Laila were beaten on a regular basis by being “[thrown]…up against the wall” and “struck…with belt[s] again and again,” standing as a mere example of how husbands treated their wives, showing the immense pride in male dominance, and insensitivity towards the female gender (346).
The theme of abuse provides a dose of reality for readers because of its awareness of how evil people can truly be towards one another, especially toward an individual that’s suppose to receive love from their spouse until the last breath. Immense feelings are felt for all the women going through these situations and experiences because no one deserves to be treated the way that they are. Many cannot believe that people still believe, in the year 2015, there is such a thing as superiority and inferiority, especially due to skin color, race, gender, religion, mental state or anything else.
This next theme can be meshed into abuse due to it being brutality towards others. There are two ways that this theme displayed itself in A Thousand Splendid Suns: oppression of women and the ongoing war with Afghanistan during that time. In both cases, someone is being injured because of the hatred and oppression going on between groups of people.
The oppression forced upon women became the most prominent theme in the story because, like stated previously, the novel is told through the eyes of two different women, Mariam and Laila. The author interestingly plays out the plot through the perspectives of the two women because readers are allowed to experience the tribulations personally. Hopefully by the end, the audience is able to realize that this is part of reality, not just merely a piece of literature; this is occurring in the lives of real women and they are persevering through it in hopes of “moments of beauty” (370). Though oppression weighed down on the main characters’ shoulders, endurance stood right by their side to hold them up, even when faced with a deadly situation. Without endurance, the women in A Thousand Splendid Suns would have never made it through the injustice within the patriarchal Afghan society.
During the plot of the novel, readers are enlightened with the knowledge that the Afghan society was going through a bloody war and were given the opportunity to encounter it firsthand through the characters. The brutality between groups of people contained intense and merciless actions towards those who didn’t meet standards. Throughout the novel, characters recall the horrors that come with war: murders of politicians and innocent civilians, people caught in the crossfire, refugee attempts at migration, the draft, restrictions, consequences, and the after-effect. The disgusting world that comes from war is displayed, revealing the true horrors that real people have gone through and are possibly going through today.
Khaled Hosseini’s novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns,1 presented a mere preview into the Afghan culture and society by displaying how women’s education is ultimately necessary for national success, the controversy between those who stand on women’s educational rights and those who don’t, spousal abuse, and brutality towards others through war. These themes reveal the beautiful and ugly aspects within the country of Afghanistan, combining to create a fantastic plot, as well as, a message for everyone: When you’re faced with any tribulation, big or small, all you need is endurance