A Thousand Splendid Suns Questions and Answers
by Khaled Hosseini

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How does Mariam change in the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns? 

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Mariam's character is quite dynamic in A Thousand Splendid Suns.   Early in the novel when Laila first arrives in the home as Rasheed's second wife, Mariam is very upset and takes out the decision on Laila--she shuns her in the home.  However, in time, Mariam forms a strong bond with Laila and eventually...

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Mariam changes considerably throughout the novel. Initially, she is depicted as an isolated and naïve girl who is victim to her circumstances. Mariam is a harami, a child conceived out of wedlock, and her wealthy father Jalil leads a separate life of luxury with his three wives and nine children in the city. By contrast, Mariam and her single mother, Nan,a lead a meager existence in a small nearby village. Nana constantly reminds Mariam of the great sacrifices she has made in order to have her daughter and the significant struggles she faces as a result. Mariam resents her mother and looks forward to her brief weekly visits from Jalil.

Mariam’s circumstances grow worse when her father does not arrive for a much anticipated visit on her fifteenth birthday. She then goes to Jalil’s home, only to be rejected by her father and his wives. Mariam returns home to find her mother has committed suicide—a threat Nana had made if Mariam left her. Jalil allows Mariam to stay with him for a brief time but quickly arranges a marriage with an older, wealthy shoe maker, Rasheed.

Mariam’s marriage is abusive and violent, as she is unable to give Rasheed the very thing he wants, a child. Mariam suffers several miscarriages over the years and becomes victim to Rasheed’s rage and outbursts. Like her parents, Rasheed perpetuates Mariam’s feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. It is only when Rasheed marries a second woman, Laila, that Mariam begins to transform. Laila and her two young children offer Mariam the opportunity to feel a sense of family and love. She becomes the maternal care taker, helping Laila to raise the children and trying to protect all of them from Rasheed’s abuse. In this role of care taker, Mariam finds purpose and acceptance and is able to develop a sense of strength that she has not experienced before.

Mariam’s strength is tested when she must fight Rasheed in order to save Laila’s life. As Rasheed attacks Laila, Mariam realizes she must kill Rasheed or else he will kill them. She uses a shove to end Rasheed’s life. Laila plans for all of them to flee, but Mariam insists that she must stay behind. Otherwise, the authorities will go in search of Laila as well. Ultimately, Mariam is imprisoned and then executed in front of thousands of spectators. Just before her death, we are told:

“Miriam wished for so much in those final moments. 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 child 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. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last. No. It was not so bad, Miriam thought, that she should die this way. Not so bad. This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate belongings.”

This passage is significant, as it reflects Mariam’s transformation. Mariam spent a great deal of her life as a passive victim of her circumstances. However, her relationship with Laila and Laila’s children allowed Mariam to find love and to develop courage, strength, and purpose. Ultimately, she became a woman with a sense of identity and choice.