Is survival a theme in the book A Thousand Splendid Suns?And how is it a theme?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Survival is absolutely a central theme in Khaled Hosseini's second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Mariam's mother tells her, when Mariam is a young girl, "Women like us. We endure. It's all we have." This sets the tone for the entire novel as we follow the lives of co-protagonists Mariam and Laila. At first, Mariam's life trajectory is much more dire than Laila's. Mariam is an illegitimate child of a former maid and a rich man who has three wives and barely pays Mariam any attention (even though she idolizes him). When Mariam goes to see her father in the city and doesn't return immediately, her mother commits suicide. After this, Mariam goes to live with her father briefly but never truly belongs to the family. Her father marries her off quickly to Rasheed, a business owner and widower. Mariam is much younger than Rasheed (she is only a teenager) and obviously does not want to marry him; she begs her father not to make her go through with it, but he feels he has no choice.

Mariam's marriage is full of suffering. Her only possible consolation, the hope of a child, is also taken from her through a series of miscarriages. Her husband is dissatisfied with her inability to bear a child and takes issue with her housekeeping and cooking at times. He physically and verbally abuses her. Mariam's life is full of tragedy, to say the least.

Laila, on the other hand, is raised by liberal parents in the same neighborhood where Mariam and Rasheed reside. Laila is educated and has a relationship with a young man in the neighborhood, though he leaves due to increasing danger and violence in Kabul. Eventually, Laila's family become victims of an explosion, and she loses both her parents. She is seriously injured and taken in by Mariam and Rasheed as she heals. Rasheed decides to take her as a second wife, and he dotes on her, much to Mariam's dismay. Eventually, though, Rasheed becomes abusive towards Laila as well. Laila is feistier than the meek Mariam, but the women ultimately unite against the villainous Rasheed.

Near the end of the novel, Mariam kills Rasheed to save Laila from being killed by him. Mariam makes the ultimate sacrifice, turning herself in for the crime so that Laila, her lover, and her children can escape the city. Before her execution, Mariam endures unspeakable tragedy and pain, and as the novel closes, Laila continues to endure and survive, though now with a better chance of happiness.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Survival is definitely one of the themes of the novel, and the art of surviving becomes an essential part of the lives of Laila and Mariam. In addition to the war which wages throughout Afghanistan for years, the two women face the threat of injury or death on an almost daily basis from their abusive husband, Rasheed. Mariam's mother, Nana, has already struggled with the daily rigors of surviving the poverty of her own life, living in a simple hut just a few miles from Mariam's wealthy father. Nana takes the easy way out, hanging herself rather than face a life without her daughter.

The women face the hardships of starvation, imprisonment, and psychological cruelty during their time under the roof of husband Rasheed, who also savagely beats them. Laila is forced to accept Rasheed as a mate after her own parents are killed in an explosion, leaving her with little other way of surviving on her own. Mariam eventually dies at the hands of the Taliban, refusing to implicate Laila in Rasheed's death so that her life may continue.

Other characters must also deal with the threat of an early death in Afghanistan. Tariq, who has already lost a leg to the war, is forced to become a drug mule; he survives his stay in prison and returns to Kabul to find his true love, Laila.

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A Thousand Splendid Suns

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