A particular kind of suffering in the novel has to do with shame, which comes up again and again as both a pain to be endured and as a tool to inflict on others. In the first case, shame is linked to responsibility and ensuing guilt for an incident in a character’s past. Mariam’s mother’s suicide, after Mariam runs away to Jalil, is one example of such shame. Laila feels her own sense of shame for having survived the bombing that killed her parents, purely by luck.
Another type of shame is intimately linked to social standing and reputation, and that particular type of shame has the power to inflict deep psychological damage. As a harami (bastard), Mariam is made to feel deeply ashamed by her father Jalil’s family, by others in the village, and by her husband Rasheed. She becomes convinced as a result that she does not deserve to be loved, and will never find a place where she belongs. By beating both Mariam and Laila, Rasheed combines psychological and physical harm, making them feel pain but also shaming them and asserting his own power over them.
We see, then, how shame is both intimately personal and extremely political. Many of the Taliban’s laws, particularly regarding the status of women, consider women as shameful (though extraordinarily powerful) creatures that must be barred from the public sphere. These standards are often couched in terms of “protecting” a woman’s “honor,” though honor in the novel is quite often used as the counterpart to shame.
Shame and Reputation ThemeTracker
Shame and Reputation Quotes in A Thousand Splendid Suns
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.
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.”
“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?”
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.
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?
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.
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.