“Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have.” How does this sentiment inform Mariam’s life in A Thousand Splendid Suns, and how does it relate to the larger themes of the novel?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mariam's mother tells her, "Women like us. We endure" early in Mariam's life. She is the illegitimate child of her mother, Nana, a former servant, and a wealthy man named Jalil, in whose house Nana once worked. Mariam aspires to have a relationship with her father and to go to...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Mariam's mother tells her, "Women like us. We endure" early in Mariam's life. She is the illegitimate child of her mother, Nana, a former servant, and a wealthy man named Jalil, in whose house Nana once worked. Mariam aspires to have a relationship with her father and to go to school, but Nana tells her that she is not meant to be ambitious. Instead, women like them—poor outcasts—must simply try to survive, despite the dire conditions of their lives.

After Nana dies by suicide, Mariam lives briefly (and begrudgingly, for the family) in Jalil's house with his wives and other, legitimate children. Quickly, though, she is married off to Rasheed, an older, widowed shoemaker who lives across the country in Kabul. Though Mariam protests, her father goes through with the marriage, and this is the next tragedy Mariam must endure. She tries to be a good wife to Rahseed, but he is abusive—even more so after Mariam has a series of miscarriages. Rasheed sees Mariam as a servant who is there to cook for him and keep his house clean. Through it all, Mariam silently endures. It is not until Laila enters the household that Mariam's perspective changes. Once Rasheed marries Laila, he becomes more abusive and hateful toward Mariam, but Laila stands up to him. Witnessing Laila's self-confidence and becoming friends with Laila and close with her children motivate Mariam to become more assertive. She ends up being the one to kill Rasheed when he is about to choke Laila to death. Though she does stand up to their abusive husband, Mariam ultimately continues to endure hardship as she chooses to turn herself in and allow Laila, Tariq, and the children to escape to Pakistan. However, at the end, she sacrifices herself of her own will, and she no longer has the same attitude toward herself. She thinks of what she has achieved in her life and of the love she has experienced, and she is content in the end.

The novel as a whole highlights the hardships of women's lives in Afghanistan, particularly under Taliban rule. Women had few to no rights, marital abuse was legal, and there was no option to leave an abusive relationship for the woman. The idea of resilience is clearly related to these contexts, since the female characters are made to endure much loss, violence, and tragedy. However, the novel also shows how hope and love can be born from these tragic situations. Ultimately, enduring their marriage to Rasheed together allows Mariam and Laila to bond and to achieve, in their own ways, some level of contentment with their lives despite the dire circumstances of their country.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This statement is uttered by Nana, Mariam’s mother, when Mariam expresses her interest in pursuing an education. The expression coincidentally foreshadows what Mariam’s life becomes; she perseveres a lifetime of intense hardships, which she would have otherwise succumbed to, had she been weak. The statement is particularly true in demonstrating women’s oppression in the book.

Women have limited rights and live by the dictates of their husbands and the patriarchal society. Mariam, for instance, is forced into marriage at a tender age to her husband, Rasheed. Rasheed mistreats and torments her due to the fact that she has failed to bear him children. Eventually, her tumultuous life is cut short through persecution by the authorities. On her fifteenth birthday, Mariam’s mother opted to end her own life due to hardships. Laila too endures the same cycle of suffering that the other women do; however, she is more hopeful for a better life. She, Tariq, and the children flee to Pakistan for safety and only return to Afghanistan after peace has been restored.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It is important to remember that above all this novel paints an incredibly moving picture of two women who struggle to eke out any form of existence against the backdrop of a repressively harsh patriarchal society. Both Laila and Mariam are shown, again and again throughout the text, to lack opportunities, dignity and even the most simplest and most basic of rights that women enjoy in the West today. As a result of this, the only option they have is either to give up or to try to endure the massive hardships of day to day life as best as they can and not surrender themselves to despair. This quote therefore could be used to accurately sum up this massive central theme of the novel which helps reveal what life is like for women in a radically different society and culture, and the way that this impacts their lives and futures to such an incredible extent.

In particular, given the way that Mariam meets such a terrible and shocking end, we could argue that this statement above all applies to her. She has no lover to await her, and indeed it is debatable whether she has actually ever experienced love at all. Let us also remember that she is executed in the most brutal and public way possible for a crime that she did not commit. Whilst this gave her an opportunity to show her love and fellowship with Laila, her end is a reflection on the kind of life she has lived throughout her unhappy years: one that is characterised by oppression and lack of liberty, and where even enduring is not necessarily enough.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team