The power given to men is an important theme in Khaled Hosseini’s novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns. The book follows the lives of the illegitimate Mariam and young, beautiful girl, Laila, born of whom are married to Rasheed. Through both women’s experiences, the reader is thrust into the grim reality for women in a man’s world. As the women forced to face domestic violence, abuse and their husband’s controlling nature in silence, Hosseini exhibits very real problems which women from all walks of life are faced with on a daily basis.
From the very start the women are taught to be submissive and accepting of the pain and hardships thrown at them. Mariam’s mother ingrains the message that “there’s only one skill women like us need in life, and its-tahamul…endure,” into Marian from a young age. She is told that men are heartless, uncaring creatures and that “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.” In this world, the role of women is to serve men. “Had she ever been a deceitful wife? she asked herself. A complacent wife? A dishonourable woman? Discreditable? Vulgar? What harmful thing had she wilfully done to this man to warrant his malice, his continual assaults, the relish with which he tormented her?” In this quote, despite Mariam fulfilling all of her duties, Rasheed still feels the need to punish her and her is able to get away with it easily.
Rasheed dictates every aspect of his wives lives from the way they dress (forcing them to wear burqas in public) to the way they behave and speak. Rasheed has all the power in the relationships, eaily getting away with abusing his wives whenever they upset or anger him. An example of this is when he forced Marian to eat pebbles after he doesn’t like the food she has prepared for him – “His powerful hands clasped her jaw. He showed two fingers into her mouth and pried it open, then forced cold, hard pebbles in to it…’CHEW’ he bellowed… ‘now you know what your rice tastes like.” There are also many occasions of domestic violence in the book where Rasheed abuses Laila and Mariam by hitting them with his belt, locking them away without food or water for days and threatening them with a gun. When an outsider is told about the domestic abuse Laila and Mariam regularly face, he chooses to not take any action and plainly states that “what happens between a husband and his wives behind closed doors is none of my business.”
One day when the beatings from Rasheed become especially bad, Mariam defends Laila by attacking Rasheed with a shovel. Rasheed dies and Laila runs away to the country side with her children. She wants Mariam to come with them too but Mariam knows that if she goes, authorities will forever be chasing them looking to get justice for Rasheed’s death. Instead she stays at home and takes responsibility for his murder. When she is caught, she tries to explain that it was an act of self defence, but the judge sentences Mariam to death. “Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman.” She is publicly executed. Even in death, Rasheed’s is more powerful and more important than Mariam.
Khaled Hosseini communicates the social hierarchy and the hardships which many women are forced to endure through his characters. Through mood and symbolism he relates moments of sheer pain and sorrow but also moments of love, happiness and hope.