How does Hosseini utilize the experiences of Mariam to convey his theme of destiny vs self determination?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The collision between destiny and self- determination can be seen when Rasheed brutalizes Laila.  In that moment, Mariam is posed between both realities.  On one hand, she can embrace the path of destiny.  This predicament is one in which women embody a reality that Mariam's mother believed existed for women.  Nana believed that a woman's destiny encompasses enduring abuse and accepting the condition in which they live.  Mariam is confronted with this reality when Laila is beaten.  Rasheed takes the belt to Laila and is particularly savage in how he brutalizes her. Mariam calls for him to stop, but she realizes that this is futile.  It is in this condition where the destiny of women become evident.

When Mariam takes the shovel, it becomes clear that Mariam has accepted the notion of self- determination. Mariam's act of killing her husband reflects that she is not Nana.  She refuses to accept a destined victimization for women. Mariam takes action.  She not only takes action in killing Rasheed as he beats Laila, but also in helping to arrange the safe passage for Laila and her children.  In accepting responsibility for her actions, Marian embodies self- determination.  She fully understands what it is she needs to do.  Mariam does not fulfill the destiny of women under the Taliban and under men like Rasheed.  Mariam's actions reject the destiny of suffering in silence and living the life of a victim.  When Laila protests, Mariam's words confirm that self- determination is something she actively seeks: "For me it ends here. There’s nothing more I want. Everything I’d ever wished for as a little girl you’ve already given me. You and your children have made me so very happy. It’s all right, Laila jo. This is all right. Don’t be sad.”   Hosseini has constructed Mariam's character to show that individuals can exercise self- determination and counteract the external construction of destiny in defining their identities.  When the judge asks Mariam if she had the capacity to understand what she was doing, she does not evade the force of her actions.  She epitomizes self- determination because she understands what she did and why it was done.  In rejecting the condition of suffering and victimization that is intrinsic to being a woman in Afghanistan in such challenging conditions, Mariam chooses self- determination. As her executioner orders her to look down at the ground, she recalls verse from the Qur'an.  This is the pinnacle of self- determination, as Mariam shows that her own will is not going to be controlled by external reality even at the moment of death and execution.

Hosseini develops Mariam's character as the ultimate repudiation of a vision of destiny that denies voice to individuals. For Mariam, her self- determination represents a chance to right that which is wrong:   “This is a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings.”   Mariam's condition of self- determination is meant to inspire.  This is evidenced in how Laila already knows the name for her child if it is a girl.  Mariam's example of self- determination becomes part of the new destiny that girls in Afghanistan can embrace.  No longer will girls have to deal with Nana's idea of suffering in silence.  Rather, they can turn to Mariam's self- determination as an example of who they are and what they can be.

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