A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

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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.
Gender Relations Theme Icon

By telling the story of A Thousand Splendid Suns through the perspective of two Afghan women, Hosseini can emphasize certain aspects of Afghan life and history that differ from the established historical narrative. The novel, in fact, draws on the limitations imposed on women in Afghan life in order to explore how women have lived, endured, and subverted these constraints.

Gender relations differ throughout the novel depending on the occupying forces and the laws that accompany them. Under communist rule, for instance, girls are permitted to attend school and work outside the home. Babi celebrates this status and encourages Laila to take advantage of it. At the same time, however, girls are discouraged from spending too much time with members of the opposite sex before they’re married. Gender relations can also depend on specific traditional or regional norms—Mariam, for instance, is required by her husband to wear a burqa long before this becomes law. Men, like Laila’s brothers, are the ones who go off to fight, while the women stay home and often must deal with the repercussions of war.

The relatively progressive gender norms under communism change drastically with the arrival of the Mujahideen and, eventually, the Taliban. For Laila, the restrictions have the effect of taking Kabul, the city that she always thought of as hers, away from her, limiting her freedom of speech and movement. Even so, the characters find ways to subvert these norms: Laila sneaks across town to the orphanage, and with Mariam she plans an escape (though ultimately a thwarted one) from Rasheed. The Taliban may have legally sanctioned Rasheed’s violent beatings, but Hosseini is clearly on the side of greater freedoms for women, and the reader is meant to cheer on Laila and Mariam as they struggle against these inequalities.

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Gender Relations Quotes in A Thousand Splendid Suns

Below you will find the important quotes in A Thousand Splendid Suns related to the theme of Gender Relations.
Part I: Chapter 3 Quotes

“It’s our lot in life, Mariam. Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have. Do you understand?”

Related Characters: Nana (speaker), Mariam
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

Mariam has told Nana that she would appreciate the chance to go to school, like Jalil's other children. But Nana is skeptical that this is a possibility, and besides, she doesn't think that Mariam needs the kinds of skills she would learn in school. Instead, Nana tells Mariam, she only needs to learn how to "endure." This advice is not only for Mariam: in using the first-person plural of "us" and "we," Nana lumps herself in this category as well.

"Women like us," according to Nana, are women who have been abandoned by society and are condemned to live at its fringes. Importantly, Nana does not include all marginalized people in this group, but only the women: as the group structurally prevented from attaining the same opportunities as men, women are doubly affected when they are also poor and exist outside of traditional family structures. Nana has a deterministic view of this society; that is, she does not seem to believe that any aspect of society itself can be changed. Instead, she and Mariam can only learn how to live based on what is permitted to them. They are condemned to suffer, but their "success" will depend on how well they react to this suffering—how well they persevere.


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Part I: Chapter 10 Quotes

“But I’m a different breed of man, Mariam. Where I come from, one wrong look, one improper word, and blood is spilled. Where I come from, a woman’s face is her husband’s business only. I want you to remember that. Do you understand?”

Related Characters: Rasheed (speaker), Mariam
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

Rasheed is pleased with the dinner Mariam has cooked for him, and he offers to show her around Kabul the next day. But he will require her to wear a floor-length burqa: as he hands it to her, he scornfully talks about the more modern men in the neighborhood, who allow their wives to walk around in short skirts. Like Mariam, Rasheed is from a more rural part of Afghanistan, where more modern, Western customs are not only looked down upon but are often unthinkable.

It is not so much that Mariam is bothered by these customs of dress, but rather by what these customs symbolize in Rasheed's mind. For him, the burqa is meant to proclaim that Mariam is his property, that she belongs to him alone. Even her face cannot be seen by others for risk of allowing other men to have so much as a glimpse of this property. Mariam feels suffocated, not to mention intimidated, by these assumptions, which seem to rely on a code of violent patriarchal honor and reputation.

Part I: Chapter 15 Quotes

It wasn’t easy tolerating him talking this way to her, to bear his scorn, his ridicule, his insults, his walking past her like she was nothing but a house cat. But after four years of marriage, Mariam saw clearly how much a woman could tolerate when she was afraid.

Related Characters: Mariam, Rasheed
Page Number: 98
Explanation and Analysis:

Mariam has had multiple miscarriages in the years since she first married Rasheed, and she knows that her husband is furious at her for not giving him a son, a prized and crucial possession among traditional families. Rasheed has lost any minor tenderness that he once may have shown Mariam, and now in addition to feeling scorned and ridiculed Mariam also has to deal with being frightened by Rasheed's unpredictable moods and tendency to beat her. 

Rasheed treats Mariam not as a fellow human being, much less his own wife, but as an animal or a possession, something hardly worthy of attention. Mariam had hoped that she would find long-sought love with her new husband, but now that hope seems wildly naive and optimistic. Instead, Mariam begins to espouse some of the same beliefs that Nana had tried to equip her with when Mariam was a child. She has learned to "tolerate" all that Rasheed hurls at her, rather than fight or challenge him. Fear, rather than preventing her from persevering through the shameful way he treats her, is what ensures that she will be able to accept what happens to her.

Part II: Chapter 16 Quotes

“I know you’re still young, but I want you to understand and learn this now,” he said. “Marriage can wait, education cannot. You’re a very, very bright girl. Truly, you are. You can be anything you want, Laila. I know this about you. And I also know that 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.”

Related Characters: Hakim (Babi) (speaker), Laila
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

Laila's friends have been joking around about how to ward off unwanted suitors, but Laila recognizes that she does not need to worry about such problems, since Babi wants her to get an education. Here she recalls what he has repeated to her multiple times.

Babi's advice could not be further from Rasheed's understanding of the proper place of a woman in Afghani life. Rather than considering the home as the women's sphere, Babi thinks that the education of women is not just positive but necessary for Afghanistan to recover from its many wars and succeed in the future. He sees Laila as an example of how the next generation can repair the mistakes and failures of earlier generations, and he understands that that can only take place if all citizens are educated. Babi thus makes the education of women not a private question, a question of giving women opportunities now often barred from them, but a question that is directly linked to the national future of the country.

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.