How do Miriam and Laila compare and contrast in terms of enduring?how does these comparisons relate to larger themes

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Both Mariam and Laila endure their life circumstances in similar yet differing ways. Their respective approaches to life reinforce the themes of women's suffering, gender roles, and female camaraderie in A Thousand Splendid Suns.

Both women endure restrictions to their freedom with courage but differ in how they choose to respond to pain. In the story, Mariam becomes visibly depressed after she miscarries her first child. Rasheed, who was hoping for a boy, treats Mariam's grief with cold indifference. Rasheed's insensitivity and the subsequent tension between him and Mariam strongly reinforce the frailty of gender relations within an austere patriarchal culture.

As a result of Rasheed's apathy, Mariam grieves quietly. She remembers Nana's characterization of women as snowflakes that break up into pieces as they fall quietly on people. To Mariam, women like herself are expected to suffer quietly. When Rasheed refuses a ritual funeral for the baby, Mariam holds the ceremony on her own. She digs a hole in the yard, plants the suede coat Rasheed had purchased for the baby in it, and covers up the hole with dirt. Then, Mariam prays to Allah for sustenance and for blessings for her lost child. So, Mariam endures quietly and relies on God to comfort her in her grief.

Meanwhile, Laila approaches suffering differently. In the story, Laila represents the new generation of women who are able to thrive and enjoy a measure of autonomy within an intensely patriarchal culture. Laila's boldness and extroverted nature are in part inspired by her father Babi, a man who harbors progressive views about women's rights. To Babi, the gender roles of old will never suffice in a modern Afghanistan. 

True to his convictions, Babi ensures that Laila is able to pursue her education. Laila's childhood experiences differ markedly from that of Mariam's. When the two find themselves as sister wives, they form an inseparable bond with each other; their shared experiences reinforce the theme of female camaraderie in the novel.

After much discussion, the two plot to run away together. Laila inspires Mariam with her dynamic and dauntless spirit. However, a male stranger they approach for help to purchase bus tickets reports them to authorities instead. The restrictions against women traveling without a male companion reinforce the helplessness of women in a rigid patriarchal culture. Rasheed is furious when he discovers Mariam and Laila's plan to run away.

He physically attacks both women and locks Laila up in her room. Rasheed gives vent to his violent inclinations because he knows that there will be no legal repercussions for his actions. Later, when Rasheed discovers that Laila has visited with Tariq, he ferociously beats her. To prevent Rasheed from murdering Laila, Mariam hits him with a shovel, killing him. Both women endure great physical and emotional suffering at Rasheed's hands, but their bond provides them courage to transcend his abuse. 

In the end, although both endure in markedly differing ways, Mariam and Laila share one thing in common: their ability to transcend suffering with sheer will.


mkcapen1 | Student

Miriam was the bastard child.  Her mother was considered an outcast for becoming pregnant out of marriage.  She had been Jalil's, Mariam's father's, servant. Mariam was raised in an isolated environment by a mother who restricted her activities to protect her but put her down.  Her father visited her but was not in her life as much as she had desired.  When she tried to be a part of his family, he had her married off to Rasheed.  Her husband beat her and treated her brutally. She lost her only child through miscarriage and could no longer conceive.

Laila was raised by an modern mother and educated father with siblings.  Sheattended school and had freedom that many Afghan women and children did not experience.  Her father was loving and kind toward her.  She had a lover by whom she became pregnant.  Her parents were killed in a bombing.  Alone and confused, she was taken in by Mariam's husband and became his wife.  Rasheed treats her well, and she bears two children. 

Laila's upbringing makes her the stronger of the two women.  She has the courage to try and escape the household of her husband.  Her loving nature also helps Mariam to experience love and family through Laila and her children.  Lalia's effort to help them escape leads to brutal punishment for Mariam at the hands of Rasheed.

Eventually their differences lead to a conflict that ends in Rasheed's death and Mariam takes the blame.  The larger theme is the friendship that these two very different women experience as they, become family who are deeply loyal to one another.


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A Thousand Splendid Suns

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