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A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Women’s rights in the Oriental and Western world are probably one of the most controversial points of today’s culture. Khaled Hosseini is the one who is involved in both cultures. He was born in Afghanistan and became a citizen of the United States. He has the eastern background and the western vision that is why his novels are layered and multi-dimensional.

Khaled Hosseini’s latest novel A Thousand Splendid Suns is a powerful and tragic insight into two women’s fate in Afghanistan. The author demonstrates the system that restricts women’s rights and destroys their lives. At the same time, he reveals an idea of nature’s power. Khaled Hosseini claims that nature is so strong and humane that it always has a moral victory over people’s tormentors. The writer attempts to create a special system of literary devices with an aim to strike his readers and impress them.  This system aims to be a background of the book and includes imagery, symbolism and tone of the story.  

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The novel’s symbolism is evident considering the title of the book, which is a direct quote from a poet of the seventeen century, Mirza Muhammad Ali Sa'ib:

Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye

Through the bazaars, caravans of Egypt pass

One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs

And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls (quoted in ‹

Thus, from the very beginning the author introduces an essential symbol by making this reference. By “the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls” both the poet and the writer mean a secret treasure of Kabul, those women who are hidden from the world in their men’s houses.  No one is able to see their beauty and the generosity of their souls. At the same time, the symbol of suns in this case means potential that is hidden. Nevertheless, it is not possible to hide the sun because it is stronger than any barriers.

The symbolism of the sun is used many times, making it a key symbol of the novel. Mariam and Leila live according to the sun’s rhythms. It helps them understand where they are and not go mad from their dull lives and suffering. Mariam “could lie in her cot and tell the time of day by the angle of sunlight pouring through the window” (74). At the same time, they are like flowers under the sun, very tender and fragile: “Mariam saw flowers everywhere, tulips, lilies, petunias, their petals awash in sunlight” (40).

Imagery of the novel is closely related to its symbolism

The author’s language is very lively and powerful. The author resorts to describing the characters’ feelings through the outside objects and setting. For instance, when Mariam’s mother commits suicide, she has to marry a man who is thirty years her senior. Mariam is frightened, lonely and insecure. The author manages to reveal these emotions without literally naming them but doing so through perception of the external world: “She was in a stranger's house, with all its different rooms and its smell of cigarette smoke, with its unfamiliar cupboards full of unfamiliar utensils, its heavy, dark green curtains, and a ceiling she knew she could not reach” (74).

The author does not directly say that the women are prisoners in their husbands’ houses; however, he makes this clear by using the illustrative imagery. For instance, he demonstrates that the women’s lives are confined to their house. They can hardly breathe in a free way there. They do not seem to be unhappy about their fate; they just do not know many other options. Being married means protection, an opportunity to care about somebody and give birth to a child. The scope of the women’s interests does not go beyond the housewife’s duties, so they do not protest against inequality in Afghani society. They have no experience of another life, so they cannot compare their fate with another one. Mariam and Leila realize that their rights are violated, but they take it as a fate, which they have to tolerate. They are vulnerable and helpless in society that defends only men’s interests. This idea is also expressed by the author through imagery, which emphasizes sadness and solitude of imprisonment. “Alone in the house, Mariam paced restlessly, from the kitchen to the living room, up the steps to her room and down again” (80).

The writer is very picturesque when revealing the stereotypes which exist in society about men and women. It is remarkable how Mariam justifies Rasheed’s being sexually violent towards her: “The way he pinned her down, his hard squeezes at her breasts, how furiously his hips worked. He was a man. All those years without a woman. Could she fault him for being the God had created him?” (107). Thus, the author exposes an idea that the traditional belief is that men and women are not equal from their birth, that being unfair and violent to women is part of their nature, rather than their fault. This assumption makes women tolerant and helpless; they continue to put up with injustice, taking it for granted.

The tone of the novel 

The tome is largely defined by the author’s point of view. It is a third person narration, but the author is omnipresent, which he uses to give a psychological insight of Mariam and Laila’s world. Because the author is so close to his two heroines and takes sides with them, this creates the tone of compassion. It is not accidental that the author chooses two women to describe. He wants to reveal the fact that Afghani women have a lot in common but still they are different. It helps the author break false stereotypes in the Western world and remain true to life. For example, Mariam got only basic education learning reading and writing, while Laila’s father considers that her education should be equal to the one that males get. Thus, the author demonstrates that Afghanistan changes, and that everything depends on particular people. At the same time, this proves that while human rights depend on luck, it means that the system does not work, and this is the major issue for the women.

The author’s compassionate tone is especially visible when he reveals Mariam and Laila’s human bond, especially in the scene after Rasheed’s death: “Laila crawled to her and again put her head on Mariam's lap. She remembered all the afternoons they'd spent together, braiding each other's hair, Mariam listening patiently to her random thoughts and ordinary stories with an air of gratitude… "It is fair," Mariam said. "I've killed our husband. I've deprived your son of his father” (469). The woman knows that she will be sentenced to death, but her self-sacrifice is devoted to Laila.

Women's rights in the novel

The novel raises an important issue about women’s rights in Afghanistan. The author demonstrates that people live according to the norms of Islam society, which often work against women. They are hidden from the world in their houses, and no one ever knows about the violence and loneliness that takes place hidden from public eyes. The novel reveals the fact that the women justify violence and inequality, taking them as their fate. At the same time, the symbolism, imagery and the tone of the book reveal the potential that the heroines have about changing their lives.

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