“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?
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.
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.
A Thousand Splendid Suns is, above all else, a tribute to the human spirit. Throughout Mariam's life, enduring is all she does. She endures her spiteful mother, who hates her because she is a reminder of her father. She endures being sold to a middle aged man when she is only a child. She endures her brutal husband, who, when Mariam cannot provide him with a child, brings a younger woman into her home. She endures this insult and grows to love Laila and her children, finally giving her the family she never had. For the sake of this family, Mariam endures even the harshest of treatment. She endures the oppressive patriarchal reign of the Taliban, until she is wrongfully executed for the murder of her husband.
What is important to take away from this quote, which so accurately sums up the life of Mariam, is that her experience was not unique. Women in this oppressively patriarchal society are expected to endure, and nothing else. Day after day, they are beaten, oppressed, and put down, simply for the crime of being born female. Daughters are neglected in favor of sons. Mariam, while a strong example of this endurance, is not the only one to face these challenges day after day. Therefore, the theme of endurance is one of the most prevalent in the novel, as it expresses in the most vivid way the strength of these women through their endurance of the lives they lead.