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

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

Comparing character dynamics and relationships in A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Thorn Birds


The character dynamics and relationships in A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Thorn Birds share themes of love, sacrifice, and resilience. Both novels explore complex relationships marked by societal and familial pressures. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, Mariam and Laila's bond grows stronger through shared hardships, while in The Thorn Birds, Meggie's relationship with Father Ralph is complicated by forbidden love and ambition.

Expert Answers

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

How are Mariam from A Thousand Splendid Suns and Mary Carson from The Thorn Birds similar and different?

Miriam and Mary have similar experiences during the novels, such as rejection and jealousy. They both feel a similar pain when the objects of their affections choose younger, beautiful women. Though they experience the same kind of pain, their reactions to it are markedly different.

Miriam from A Thousand Splendid Suns has a promising marriage until she has the first of several miscarriages. Her husband takes a second wife, making Miriam unhappy and jealous. However, she warms to her rival, Laila, when the younger woman stands up for her. Miriam becomes close to Laila and treats her and her children like family.

Miriam’s initial approach to her betrayal mirrors her mother’s advice:

A man's heart is a wretched, wretched thing. It isn't like a mother's womb. It won't bleed. It won't stretch to make room for you.

Mary Carson is the wealthy aunt of the protagonist, Meggie Clearly, in the novel The Thornbirds. Meggie moves from New Zealand to Australia because Mary offers her father a job. Mary is very interested in Ralph de Bricassart, a disgraced priest living in the area, and attempts to seduce him. He, in turn, is only interested in her for her money, hoping she can buy his way back into favor in the Catholic Church. He does not respond to Mary’s overtures. Instead, he focuses on Meggie, which makes Mary jealous.

Miriam and Meggie are similar because they are both rejected by men they care for. They also have to cope with the objects of their affections choosing younger and more attractive women. They differ in how they handle jealousy. Miriam is angry, but after her change of heart, she loves Laila and goes to great lengths to defend her instead of trying to destroy her husband’s relationship with Laila. She becomes kind, gracious, and self-sacrificing. She meets a tragic end in a peaceful state of mind:

And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last.

Meggie reacts very differently to her rival, her niece Meggie. Her jealousy makes her angry and vindictive, and she takes active measures to keep Meggie apart from Ralph, the object of both of their affections. She tells Ralph:

I'll pin you to the wall on your own weakness, I'll make you sell yourself like any painted whore.

She forces Ralph to choose between Meggie and the money. She succeeds in separating the two because Ralph is weak enough to choose the money and his career instead of Meggie.

Mary uses her fortune to tempt Ralph away from Meggie and to ultimately separate the two lovers. She uses Ralph’s weaknesses to doom the couple. She is neither loving nor self-sacrificing.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How are Mariam from A Thousand Splendid Suns and Mary Carson from The Thorn Birds similar and different?

The character of Mariam in A Thousand Splendid Suns has numerous similarities to Anne Mueller in The Thorn Birds. The resemblances between the two women mainly have to do with their integrity and the compassion they show toward others. Although jealousy over a man is a commonality between Mariam and Mary Carson, both the type of relationship they have with a man and the way the women handle this emotion are very different.

For a long while, Mariam is Rasheed’s only wife. When he brings a second, younger wife into the marriage and home, Mariam is jealous. As she comes to realize that Rasheed is abusive toward Laila, she develops empathy with the younger woman as well as concern for her children. Mariam not only endangers herself in defending Laila from their husband’s physical abuse, she actually kills Rasheed.

Anne’s similarity to Mariam lies primarily in the empathy that both women can feel toward others. Anne, though her relationship to Meggie is technically that of employer, shows a protective attitude toward the younger woman, which is rather like what Mariam later feels for Laila. In Anne’s case, this feeling is manifested by keeping the secret of Meggie’s relationship with Ralph.

The superficial similarity of jealousy does not go very far in making Mariam resemble Mary. In the latter case, Mary feels a deep emotional and spiritual bond with Father Ralph, which is very different from a marriage. Her jealousy over Meggie seems more rooted in the loss of control she feels over both people.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How are Mariam from A Thousand Splendid Suns and Mary Carson from The Thorn Birds similar and different?

The character of Mariam in A Thousand Splendid Suns is both insecure and misguided. Her mother gave her a negative impression of herself and her ability to succeed in life, and those feelings were subsequently reinforced by others. She is undervalued by an abusive and domineering husband, and her overwhelming sense of discontent leads her to look for happiness outside herself. She believes her baby will make her happy, and when she miscarries, she believes that unhappiness is what she deserves.

Mary Carson in The Thorn Birds, on the other hand, demonstrates a clear sense of entitlement. Whereas Mariam believes she deserves unhappiness, Mary believes she deserves the best of everything and whatever she wants – and she makes it her mission to get it. Mary controls people, whereas Mariam allows herself to be controlled, both by others and by her insecurities. Mary is domineering and aggressive, willing to stop at virtually nothing to achieve her goals. She makes things happen; Mariam, on the other hand, allows things to happen to her. Mary takes action to control the course of her life, albeit in self-serving ways. Mariam resorts to murder when she finally takes action. After a life of abuse and subjugation, she spins out of control.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How are Mariam from A Thousand Splendid Suns and Mary Carson from The Thorn Birds similar and different?


Both Anne Mueller and Mariam are kind, considerate women. Anne has had many challenges in her life, not least the infantile paralysis she suffered as a child. As a result, she knows what it's like to suffer and has developed a profound sense of empathy with other people.

Mariam is also a kind woman who's had to overcome many challenges herself, albeit related to the tensions in her marriage. Though initially hostile to her husband's second wife, Laila, she eventually warms to her, showing her considerable love and kindness.

Both women are discreet, not wanting to rock the boat in any way. Though Anne knows all about Meggie's illicit relationship with Father Ralph, she keeps the secret under wraps, knowing as she does the enormous damage it will cause if it ever gets out.

Mariam, though deeply unhappy about her husband's marrying Laila, remains demure and dutiful. Rightly or wrongly, she doesn't feel it appropriate to come right out and complain about the change in domestic arrangements.


Whereas Mariam was initially bitter at Laila after she married her husband, Anne has never really been bitter at all; she's just not that kind of person. Given the incredibly bad hand that life dealt her when she was a child, one would expect her to be bitter and twisted. Yet at no point has she ever been anything less than sweetness and light.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare the relationships between Mariam and Laila in A Thousand Splendid Suns and Mary Carson and Fiona Cleary in The Thorn Birds.

In The Thorn Birds, Mary Carson is a powerful woman who extends a helping hand to her younger brother Paddy Cleary and his wife Fiona. One can find several points of comparison to Laila’s relationship to Mariam in A Thousand Splendid Suns. Mariam is Rasheed’s first wife who makes way for the second wife, Laila, to join their household. The main similarity is that in these pairs of women, one is older than the other. An extension of the age difference is that the older woman is well established within her place and social role while the younger one is a newcomer or stranger to the situation. This puts the senior one in a position to help the junior one, and some of the time, she does provide support or assistance. Another similarity is that the older woman helps the younger one's children.

The contrasts are somewhat more pronounced. Mary controls her estate and applies herself to manipulating and dominating others. The aid she extends to the Clearys comes with strings, as she expects hard labor and unflagging loyalty. Her willingness to help Fiona's daughter is curtailed when she becomes jealous of Meggie. Mariam seems to move in a different direction. Her jealousy of Laila partly extends from her relatively low status in comparison to her domineering and physically abusive husband. Mariam goes from being reluctant to accept Laila to trying to help her and the children escape. Ultimately, it is Laila who kills Rasheed and saves her co-wife and children.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on