illustration of two women standing in burkas with two overlapping circles between them and the title A Thousand Splendid Suns written above them

A Thousand Splendid Suns

by Khaled Hosseini
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Who in A Thousand Splendid Suns is the polar opposite of Mary Carson in The Thorn Birds?

Mary Carson and Mariam are very different characters. Mary is a domineering, manipulative woman who feels she has the right to control other people's lives. She also marries not for love but for position. Mariam, on the other hand, is forced into a marriage at an early age and then suffers at the hands of her husband and his second wife. Although she sometimes shows rare moments of rebellion and courage, she dies as a result of them.

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In Colleen McCullough's novel The Thorn Birds, Mary Carson is the polar opposite of Mariam in Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. Let's look at some reasons for this assertion.

First, Mary Carson is a domineering woman. She wants to control her life and her situation and manipulate other people, and she does. Mary is Paddy Cleary's sister, and she pretty much demands that Paddy move his family to Australia so that he can learn how to run Drogheda, her homestead. She implies that Paddy and his family will inherit her property at her death. Yet Mary is tricky. She makes two wills and allows Father Ralph de Bricassart to decide which one will be effective. He makes the choice to disinherit the Cleary family, just like Mary probably figures he will. She thereby excuses herself of any fault (or at least tries to).

Second, Mary is also firmly in charge of her marriage. She convinces her husband, Michael, to marry her for both her looks and her brains, and she dominates her husband. Mary, however, marries not for love but for position, and when she becomes a widow, she retains that position and all her acquired power.

Now let's compare Mary to Mariam. Mariam spends most of her life under the control of other people. She is an illegitimate child, and her father either ignores her or disgraces her. She is forced into a marriage with Rasheed, who is much older than she is. She has no choice in the matter at all. Her father arranges the relationship, and she must obey. Mariam then lives under the control of her husband, who abuses her and then marries a second wife when Mariam cannot have children. Mariam comes to care for Laila (the second wife) and her children. In fact, when Rasheed attacks Laila, Mariam takes one of the only steps of resistance she has made and hits Rasheed with a shovel, killing him. Mariam does not escape punishment, though, and she is executed. She has given her life for Laila.

Indeed, it is difficult to see how these two characters, Mary and Mariam, could be any more different. They are on opposite ends of the spectrum in personality and fate.

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