A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Love, Loyalty, and Belonging 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.
Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Theme Icon

In A Thousand Splendid Suns, love may not conquer all, but it is a stronger tie than many other social bonds, from social class to ethnic status. Love makes the novel’s characters act in sometimes irrational ways, and their erratic behavior can often be explained by the strong loyalty that stems from love. Mariam’s love for her father Jalil remains constant despite hints that he is ashamed of her harami—she ultimately turns her back on him only out of love for her own mother. The poignant scene at the end of the novel when Laila receives a letter from Jalil meant for Mariam makes clear that his love for her was never entirely stamped out.

Laila, in turn, believes that by marrying Rasheed and thus saving her and Tariq’s baby, she is remaining loyal to Tariq, even after his death. Laila’s love for Tariq also transcends ethnic boundaries—often a source of tension and violence in Afghanistan—as she is Tajik and he Pashtun. 

Though love can cross social boundaries in the novel, it is also a way to create a territory of belonging. Tariq and Laila band together in love against the destruction and suffering around them, while Mariam initially believes to find in her marriage to Rasheed a place where she can finally belong. Mariam’s final dramatic act of killing Rasheed is, paradoxically, based on her close relationship with Laila. The novel portrays such an act, though morally complex, as a powerful statement of love. 

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Love, Loyalty, and Belonging Quotes in A Thousand Splendid Suns

Below you will find the important quotes in A Thousand Splendid Suns related to the theme of Love, Loyalty, and Belonging.
Part I: Chapter 1 Quotes

She understood then what Nana meant, that a harami was an unwanted thing: that she, Mariam, was an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance.

Related Characters: Mariam, Nana
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

The first time Mariam hears the word "harami" is when she breaks a piece of Nana's beloved tea set—it is a way for Nana express her anger and condemn Mariam. As a five-year-old, Mariam could not grasp the full implications of the word, which means "bastard." But here Mariam claims that she understood the implications of the word even as a small child. "Harami," as a term of shame and judgment, carries with it a label that stigmatizes the person as unloved and unwanted. This is something that Mariam grasps almost immediately and deeply fears: it is why she will cling so closely to Jalil, who seems to offer a way to escape from such isolation. Nana's use of the word also underlines just how much even she, as someone who suffers from the rigid social structures in place, has internalized these structures herself, such that she has almost come to believe what they imply for her and her daughter.


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Part I: Chapter 6 Quotes

For the first time, Mariam could hear [Jalil] with Nana’s ears. She could hear so clearly now the insincerity that had always lurked beneath, the hollow, false assurances.

One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,

Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”

Related Characters: Mariam (speaker), Jalil
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Mariam has returned to Jalil's house after Nana's funeral, and Jalil has told her that he will allow her to stay with him. There was a time when nothing would have made Mariam happier than to be able to live with Jalil. Now, however, Nana's suicide has changed everything. It is not that Jalil's character has been transformed by Nana's death: instead, Mariam simply recognizes the aspects of his character that she had been unable or unwilling to see all along.

Throughout Mariam's childhood, she had idolized Jalil, refusing to see him through Nana's eyes and instead remaining convinced that he was a kind, good father. Only now can she recognize that what she believed to be his goodness was only a pleasant façade concealing a deeper insincerity. After all, Jalil directly participated in keeping Mariam and Nana isolated and apart from his "true" family. Now Mariam's loyalty has shifted definitively to Nana. However, this change of heart comes too late for Nana, who did not live to see her daughter fully come to to terms with her father's true self. Mariam's belated realization will long haunt her.

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 19 Quotes

It was hard to feel, really feel, Mammy’s loss. Hard to summon sorrow, to grieve the deaths of people Laila had never really thought of as alive in the first place. Ahmad and Noor had always been like lore to her. Like characters in a fable. Kings in a history book.

It was Tariq who was real, flesh and blood.

Related Characters: Laila, Tariq, Fariba (Mammy), Ahmad, Noor
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

Ahmad and Noor, Laila's two brothers, have been killed in the course of fighting, and Mammy, who has always adored them, is beyond comforting. During the funeral, Laila attempts to understand her mother's feelings, and to feel her sorrow herself, but is unable to. Ahmad and Noor, off fighting since Laila was very young, have long remained abstract figures to her rather than real, present, loving brothers. She understands the importance of their positions and their courage in fighting for their country, but these ideals have never gained a sense of reality for Laila. She can only contrast the way she feels about her brothers to the way she feels about Tariq, whom she has grown up with, and to whom she feels more loyal and loving than she feels even towards her own brothers. While Laila would never be able to vocalize such sentiments, she does allow herself these silent feelings as she attempts to come to terms with her family's loss.

Part II: Chapter 26 Quotes

There would come a day, in fact, years later, when Laila would no longer bewail his loss. Or not as relentlessly; not nearly. There would come a day when the details of his face would begin to slip from memory’s grip, when overhearing a mother on the street call after her child by Tariq’s name would no longer cut her adrift. She would not miss him as she did now, when the ache of his absence was her unremitting companion—like the phantom pain of an amputee.

Related Characters: Laila, Tariq
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the few moments in the book during which the narrator looks into the future and compares one of the character's later states of mind with how she is feeling at the current moment. Here, the contrast between Laila's current and later states is meant to show just how acute her pain at Tariq's absence is now—but also how such acute suffering inevitably softens and eases with the passage of time. This is not to say that Laila will have lost her feelings for Tariq. Instead, the book tries to show how it is possible for even those who have suffered the most, in ways unimaginable to many readers, to carry on in their own lives. The book is also interested in the persistence of love, and how it can change and mutate even while persevering below the surface. The way this takes place is described through a simile that is highly significant, given that Tariq of course has an amputated leg himself. The simile of amputation is meant to show how an absence can be its own kind of presence. 

Part III: Chapter 27 Quotes

She was remembering the day the man from Panjshir had come to deliver the news of Ahmad’s and Noor’s deaths. She remembered Babi, white-faced, slumping on the couch, and Mammy, her hand flying to her mouth when she heard. Laila had watched Mammy come undone that day and it had scared her, but she hadn’t felt any true sorrow. She hadn’t understood the awfulness of her mother’s loss. Now another stranger bringing news of another death. Now she was the one sitting on the chair. Was this her penalty, then, her punishment for being aloof to her own mother’s suffering?

Related Characters: Laila, Tariq, Fariba (Mammy), Hakim (Babi), Ahmad, Noor
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

As Laila struggles to react to the news of Tariq’s death, her mind returns to an earlier moment of another person’s suffering, in another reaction to horrific news. As readers, we too can recall that moment and remember how Laila struggled to feel a real sense of loss at the death of her brothers, even as her own mother broke down in grief at the news. Now Laila can finally recognize what Mammy was feeling at that long-ago moment, but she also feels that she is being made to pay, in some cosmic way, for her lack of grief when Ahmad and Noor died. At that moment in time, she had contrasted the abstract figures of her brothers to the real, visceral presence of Tariq. Here, that comparison is tragically fulfilled, as Laila learns that the person who has always seemed most real and true to her has died. In a tragically ironic twist, Laila can only fully understand her own mother’s suffering when she is made to experience something just as painful herself.

Part III: Chapter 30 Quotes

But, miraculously, something of her former life remained, her last link to the person that she had been before she had become so utterly alone. A part of Tariq still alive inside her, sprouting tiny arms, growing translucent hands. How could she jeopardize the only thing she had left of him, of her old life?

Related Characters: Laila, Tariq
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:

Laila had been plotting to escape Rasheed and flee to Pakistan, but now a regular morning nausea has made her realize that she is pregnant with Tariq’s child, and her plans are forced to change. In some ways, this realization makes things more difficult and complicated: no longer can Laila realistically escape, and she will have to find a way to ensure that Rasheed believes that this child is his own. But rather than feeling afraid or trapped, Laila’s pregnancy is a source of gratefulness and relief.

After the death of her parents, Laila had been left with no living blood relations: only the knowledge that Tariq was alive and safe gave her a sense of continuity with her past. With Tariq gone, Laila feels alone in the world and bereft of anyone who could make her feel the kind of belonging she had with Babi and Tariq. The thought of Tariq’s child now gives her the strength to want to carry on, and the ability to withstand the desperation of her new life by clinging on to something that remains from her former reality.

Part III: Chapter 35 Quotes

“Why have you pinned your heart to an old, ugly hag like me?” Mariam would murmur into Aziza’s hair. “Huh? I am nobody, don’t you see? A dehati. What have I got to give you?”

But Aziza only muttered contentedly and dug her face in deeper. And when she did that, Mariam swooned. Her eyes watered. Her heart took flight. And she marveled at how, after all these years of rattling loose, she had found in this little creature the first true connection in her life of false, failed connections.

Related Characters: Mariam (speaker)
Page Number: 252
Explanation and Analysis:

Since the end of their mutual suspicion and dislike, Mariam and Laila have grown continually closer, creating a surrogate family out of the two of them and Aziza—a truer family than the traditional one headed by Rasheed. Mariam’s murmurs to Aziza reflect the joyful shock that Mariam feels at being accepted and loved, for perhaps the first time in her life. As an infant, Aziza is unaware of Mariam’s shameful status as a "harami" and of her past of isolation and unhappiness.

Mariam takes solace in Aziza’s unquestioning contentment in her arms, even as she marvels that this contentment is even possible. Before now, the mere idea of children would only have served to remind Mariam of her own failure in giving Rasheed a child, especially a son. Rather than feel bitter that Laila has had such an opportunity, or upset at the existence of a child not her own in the household, Mariam delights in the chance to forge a real connection thanks to her growing friendship with Laila.

[Mariam] had passed these years in a distant corner of her mind. A dry, barren field, out beyond dream and disillusionment. There, the future did not matter. And the past held only this wisdom: that love was a damaging mistake, and its accomplice, hope, a treacherous illusion.

Related Characters: Mariam
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:

Mariam goes through the past years of her marriage to Rasheed in her mind, recognizing the sense of disillusionment that has been the only way she has found to deal with Rasheed’s overbearing nature and the numbing disappointments that have characterized her life with him. Now Mariam recognizes that in order to persevere in her life with Rasheed, she has had to give up on some of the ideals that she held as a child. Before Nana’s death, Mariam had dreamed of finding love and belonging, first with Jalil and his family, and then, at the beginning, with a new life as the wife of Rasheed. Both of those possibilities had turned out to be false hopes. As a result, Mariam has learned to be suspicious of any of those hopes or desires. Instead, she has pushed them aside, preferring not to hope for anything better so that she will not be disappointed once again. Mariam only now recognizes this “dry, barren field” by which she describes her past as she begins to wonder if there is in fact another possibility—if she need not push all thoughts of hope or love aside.

Part III: Chapter 41 Quotes

Mariam regretted her foolish, youthful pride now. She wished now that she had let him in. what would have been the harm to let him in, sit with him, let him say what he’d come to say? He was her father. He’d not been a good father, it was true, but how ordinary his faults seemed now how forgivable, when compared to Rasheed’s malice, or to the brutality and violence that she had seen men inflict on one another.

Related Characters: Mariam, Rasheed, Jalil
Page Number: 309
Explanation and Analysis:

Mariam has gone to the Intercontinental Hotel with Rasheed to attempt to call Jalil. They want to ask if he can help the family, as the children are going hungry and they are in a desperate situation. Mariam has not seen Jalil for thirteen years, since he came to see her at Rasheed’s house, and she had refused to go out to meet him. Thinking back on that moment, Mariam decides she was wrong to stubbornly refuse to see her father. She does not argue that Jalil was blameless, or that she should forgive him for his behavior with her and Nana. But having lived longer and having seen greater suffering and greater evil, Mariam now acknowledges that Jalil’s sins are not on the same level as those of the Taliban, for instance, or even of Rasheed.

Mariam has developed a more nuanced understanding of the way that love and loyalty can function in families. She does not expect love to mean that families will be perfect, or that family members will not hurt each other, but she has come to accept that she can still acknowledge her father and respect him without forgetting about the pain he caused her.

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.