A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Female Friendship Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
History and Memory in Afghanistan Theme Icon
Suffering and Perseverance Theme Icon
Shame and Reputation Theme Icon
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Female Friendship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Thousand Splendid Suns, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Female Friendship Theme Icon

Though gender norms shift throughout the course of the novel as a result of changing occupations and laws, one constant theme is friendship between women. The relationship between Mariam and Laila rests at the heart of the novel, as even its structure reveals: Part I takes Mariam’s perspective, Part II takes Laila’s, and Part III alternates between them. Laila also treasures her friendship with her classmates Giti and Hasina, with whom she shares laughs, games, and secrets about boys—forgetting for a time about the violence and dangers of their adolescence.

By the time the Mujahideen impose their own restrictions on the place of women in Afghanistan, female friendship becomes one way to subvert these restrictions from within. Mariam and Laila, for instance, band together against Rasheed, the husband of both and the source of much of their suffering. Most drastically, this takes the form of their plot to escape. But in more subtle ways, the time they spend together drinking tea, joking, and laughing allows them to draw strength from each other and endure their oppression. Even in a society where women cannot participate in the public sphere, the book suggests, relationships between women serve not only as a source of escape but as a means to assert their own legitimacy and dignity.

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Female Friendship Quotes in A Thousand Splendid Suns

Below you will find the important quotes in A Thousand Splendid Suns related to the theme of Female Friendship.
Part II: Chapter 23 Quotes

“By the time we’re twenty,” Hasina used to say, “Giti and I, we’ll have pushed out four, five kids each. But you, Laila, you’ll make us two dummies proud. You’re going to be somebody. I know one day I’ll pick up a newspaper and find your picture on the front page.”

Related Characters: Hasina (speaker), Laila, Giti
Page Number: 166
Explanation and Analysis:

Giti has shared with Hasina and Laila that there is a boy she likes in the neighborhood, and she's thinking about marrying him. Although Laila asks her about school, Giti just looks at her. Laila realizes that she should have understood, and she recalls what Hasina had repeated to her several times throughout their friendship: that Laila is on a different path than other girls in her community. Hasina underlines that Laila's family situation is rare if not unique: there are not many fathers like Babi, who consider it vital for young women to have an education and to have all the same opportunities as young men.

Hasina doesn't seem bitter about the different expectations for her and for Laila. Nor does she seem to question her own path in life, accepting that she will marry young and have children as is expected of her. Instead, she sounds proud and admiring of her friend: for Hasina, Laila is the exception rather than the rule, and her future should be treated as such. Hasina's words thus underline the difficulty of changing expectations and norms around gender relations in Afghanistan: even if one woman manages to attain greater equality with men, this is more likely to be seen as a rare case than as a new standard. Still, Hasina is also an example of the compassion and mutual respect that the book wants to portray as empowering, even if also common, among women. 


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Part III: Chapter 34 Quotes

Laila examined Mariam’s drooping cheeks, the eyelids that sagged in tired folds, the deep lines that framed her mouth—she saw these things as though she too were looking at someone for the first time. And, for the first time, it was not an adversary’s face Laila saw but a face of grievances unspoken, burdens gone unprotested, a destiny submitted to and endured.

Related Characters: Mariam, Laila
Page Number: 249
Explanation and Analysis:

Laila and Mariam have so far accepted their position as natural enemies, competing wives. But now Mariam admits that she is grateful for Laila’s attempt to stop Rasheed from hitting her, for sticking up for her as no one has done before. Mariam’s expression of gratefulness causes Laila to see her in a different light. Before, Laila had considered Mariam as simply another enemy to face, another unpleasant reality in her new life. But now she begins to recognize that Mariam has struggled in similar ways that she, Laila, has—that perhaps Mariam has even suffered more than herself. The sense of stubborn perseverance and acceptance of past wrongs that she sees in Mariam’s face makes Laila feel sympathetically towards Mariam, and it also makes her wonder if she and Mariam could derive mutual strength from the things that they have both gone through—if the two women could be stronger united in their suffering than divided.

Part III: Chapter 47 Quotes

Though there had been moments of beauty in it. Mariam knew that life for the most part had been unkind to her. But as she walked the final twenty paces, she could not help but wish for more of it. […] Yet as she closed her eyes, it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant peace that washed over her. She thought of her entry into this world, the harami daughter of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable, regrettable accident. A weed. And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back.

Related Characters: Mariam
Page Number: 370
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final moments of Mariam’s life, as she walks out into the stadium and prepares to be executed, she once again considers her life in her mind as if going through film reels. Mariam compares the difficulties and acute suffering she has experienced to the “moments of beauty” that she remembers with Laila and Aziza. These moments were fleeting and rare compared to the regular pain, and yet for Mariam they are worth much more—and it would even be worth living longer and suffering more in order to also live through more of such moments.

Although Mariam does wish she could live longer, she ends her life with a feeling of contentment rather than regret. After yearning for love and belonging at the beginning of her life, she had pushed those hopes away, only to have them offered to her when she least expected it—not through the love of a father or of a husband but through that of a female friend. She clings to this love, which to her means more than the shame of being a harami or the isolation of being continually unwanted and considered low in the hierarchy of her society, as a kind of solace even in the midst of the final violent act that will end her life.