A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

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A Thousand Splendid Suns Part I: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
For Mariam’s fifteenth birthday, she asks Jalil to take her to see the American film that is playing at his cinema—a cartoon about a childless toymaker who carves a puppet that comes to life and has lots of adventures. Nana says it’s not a good idea, and Jalil agrees, saying that, in fact, the film’s quality isn’t that good. But Mariam insists, and she asks him to meet her at noon the next day. He looks forlorn and hugs her without answering.
Until now, Jalil has been able to satisfy Mariam only with stories about the world beyond her home—as she gets older, however, mere stories won’t suffice. For the first time, Nana and Jalil agree on something: the boundaries imposed by the shame of Mariam’s harami status cannot be demolished.
Themes
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Nana is furious when she hears, and mocks Mariam for thinking she’s wanted in Jalil’s house. She tries to make Mariam guilty by saying a jinn will come and she’ll have a fit while Mariam’s gone. Mariam goes for a walk rather than responding in anger. She is tired of Nana pitting her against Jalil, of fearing that Mariam will find some happiness whereas Nana never had any. Mariam sits at a lookout over Herat, and arranges a series of pebbles to represent Jalil’s wives and ten children. She adds an extra, eleventh pebble beside them.
Though Nana yells at Mariam and attempts to guilt-trip her into staying, her tirades clearly stem from Nana’s love for her daughter. Mariam, however, cannot see past Nana’s bitterness. As a teenager, she still holds out hope that life might be better for her, and her game with the pebbles reflects her notion that this better life can only rest with Jalil’s family.
Themes
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
The next day, Mariam dresses in her nicest hijab and sits by the stream to meet Jalil. After an hour, she heads down to Herat alone—the first time she’s ever gone to the city. No one yells that she’s a harami, and she enjoys the anonymity. She wanders around the parks and paths, and eventually asks a carriage driver if he knows where Jalil, the cinema owner, lives. He offers to drive her, and when he pulls onto a tree-lined street, he points out that Jalil’s car is parked there.
The boundaries set up because Mariam is a harami are invisible rather than physical. As a result, Mariam believes, as she enters Herat, that they are easily surmountable. With Jalil’s car parked in the driveway, Mariam cannot imagine any other major obstacles in her path.
Themes
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
A young woman opens the door, and when Mariam introduces herself, she runs inside. Jalil’s chauffeur comes to the door and says Jalil’s not there, and didn’t say when he’d be back. Mariam says she’ll wait, even after the driver comes back out and asks her to leave. He offers to take her back to the kolba, but she refuses, and spends the night sleeping on Jalil’s stoop. In the morning, the driver awakens her and says she’s made a scene—Jalil has told him that he needs to take her back right away. Mariam races past him into the garden, a spectacular courtyard with a fishpond and fruit trees, before seeing a face for an instant in the upstairs window. The driver catches up to Mariam, picks her up, and carries her into the car.
At first, Mariam remains confident that Jalil will return and embrace her fully. This confidence shifts to a sense that there’s been a misunderstanding. Mariam simply cannot leave—she has staked so much on the belief that she belongs with Jalil and his family, and that he loves her, that she cannot face the reality that he’s turned his back on her. It is only upon seeing his face in the window that Mariam is forced to come to terms with this abandonment.
Themes
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
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On the way back, Mariam cries out of disillusionment, anger, and mainly shame at how much she idealized Jalil and dismissed Nana, who had been right all along. She wonders how she’ll be able to apologize. The driver offers to walk her up to the kolba, but on the way, he suddenly yells at her to go back and covers her eyes. But it’s too late—Mariam has already seen an overturned chair under a tree, and Nana hanging at the end of a rope from a branch.
The drive back to the kolba constitutes an epiphany for Mariam: for the first time, she (and the reader) understand the bias towards Jalil and against Nana in the previous several chapters. This already enormous suffering is almost unimaginably compounded by the realization that Nana has committed suicide.
Themes
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon