The Thorn Birds Questions and Answers
by Colleen McCullough

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What do Mary Carson, Fiona Cleary, and Luke O'Neill in The Thorn Birds all have in common with Assef in The Kite Runner and Rasheed in A Thousand Splendid Suns?

In The Thorn Birds, the characters of Mary Carson, Fiona Cleary, and Luke O'Neill are very similar to Assef in The Kite Runner and Rasheed in A Thousand Splendid Suns in their primary personality trait of selfishness. They never or rarely show concern for other people but always try to get their own way. While some of these characters are total villains, such as Assef, others have both positive and negative characteristics, such as Mary.

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The characters referenced all serve as antagonists in the respective novels. The main personality trait that Mary Carson, Fiona Cleary, Luke O'Neill, Assef, and Rasheed have in common is selfishness. Each of them is primarily concerned with achieving their own goals, and they show remarkably little concern for the welfare and happiness of other people. There are significant differences among these characters: Some of them seem to personify evil and can be seen as complete villains. Others show some positive traits to temper the primarily negative ones, but nevertheless they apply those qualities toward getting what they want.

In The Thorn Birds, Luke has the fewest redeeming qualities. He marries Meggie to gain control of her family’s land, treats his wife like a servant, and shows little paternal affection. Fiona commits the sin of adultery and lives a life of deceit forever after. However, she rationalizes her behavior out of concern for her son. Mary is the most complex of the characters: she relentlessly manipulates Ralph, but she also believes he can make a positive contribution to the church.

The most one-dimensional character is Assef. He embodies evil in his personal behavior—as Hassan’s rapist—and his politics, as he climbs the ranks in the Taliban. Rasheed is similarly portrayed in an almost entirely negative light, as he emotionally and physically abuses his wives and only cares about male children who can perpetuate his line.