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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Sexism and characterization in A Thousand Splendid Suns


In A Thousand Splendid Suns, sexism is depicted through the oppressive experiences of the female characters. Mariam and Laila endure physical and emotional abuse, restricted freedoms, and societal expectations that limit their autonomy. Their struggles highlight the pervasive gender inequality in Afghan society, illustrating how sexism shapes their identities and destinies.

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Which part of A Thousand Splendid Suns depicts sexism?

Because the entire novel discusses the oppression of women, it is impossible to narrow its portrayal of sexism to one page or even to a few. Below are several examples of sexist characters and incidents.

1. Mariam is born the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man, Jalil, and a poor woman. If she had been a son, her relationship with her father most likely would have been much different. Similarly, when Mariam goes to live with Jalil and his wives and other children, if she had been a boy, she would have had more of a say in whom she marries. Because of her gender, she is forced into a speedy arranged marriage with an older, abusive man, Rasheed.

2. Rasheed is the ultimate chauvinist in the novel. Not only does he treat Mariam incredibly badly, but he views her only as a possession. He does the same when he marries Laila, and only his male child means something to him. Most significantly, all of the multiple marriages in the novel, involve men with several wives. Hosseini chooses to include polygamy in his novel not only because it is a realistic element of Afghan culture but also to demonstrate how sexist the practice is--never does one see a wife with multiple husbands.

3. Laila's mother is a sexist because she is a product of society. She, like almost all others in her country, have been taught to view men as more valuable than women. Hence, she treasures her sons and dotes on them while neglecting Laila. Her favoritism based on gender only serves to promote a poor self image for herself and eventually for her daughter.

4. Most significantly, when the Taliban takes over, they establish strict religious and social laws. While the laws do apply to all, the women have much more rigid standards to abide by such as wearing burqas, keeping quiet, staying inside the home most of the time, etc. In contrast, the men enjoy relative freedom as far as mobility and work go.

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Who are the misogynistic and non-misogynistic characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns?

Someone who is misogynistic has a hatred or at least a significant disregard for women. Let's look at some the characters in Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns and see if they show misogynistic tendencies.

We could certainly answer with a firm "yes" for Rasheed. He is horribly abusive toward his wives and clearly cares little for women in general. Notice how he treats Mariam and later Laila. Another misogynistic character is Mariam's father, Jalil. Think of how he treats his daughter, who is illegitimate. He marries her off with no regard for her preferences or safety.

On the other hand, Laila's father, Babi, wants his daughter to get an education and does not force her into marriage. He is seriously considering leaving Afghanistan so that the female members of his family will have better lives. Laila only ends up with Rasheed after her family is killed. You might also look at Laila's close friend, Tariq. He seems to be a man who loves deeply and treats people, including women, with respect. By the end of the book, he and Laila are together and working for the good of others.

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Who are the misogynistic and non-misogynistic characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns?

A Thousand Splendid Suns is set in a patriarchal society where misogyny is normal. Nonetheless, Rasheed stands out as a particularly misogynistic character. He is physically and emotionally abusive to his wives and ignores his daughter, Aziza, while doting on his son, Zalmai (though this is partly due to the fact that Aziza is not his biological daughter). Mariam, his wife, could be said to have internalized the misogyny which surrounds her, though she eventually breaks free in a dramatic manner, killing Rasheed to defend Laila. Zalmai's respect for Rasheed leads him to imitate his father's misogynist attitudes.

Laila's father, Hakim, is an outstanding opponent of misogyny. He is determined that Laila should be well-educated and able to determine her own course in life. His example also leads Laila to oppose misogyny and choose the enlightened Tariq for herself, though she is forced to marry the misogynist Rasheed when she thinks he is dead. In his depiction of Laila's family, Hosseini shows how respect for women is passed on from generation to generation, as misogyny is in the families of Rasheed and Mariam.

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Who are the main and secondary characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns?

The main characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns are Mariam and Laila. Part One is written from Mariam's point of view, Parts Two and Four are written from Laila's viewpoint, and Part Three alternates between the viewpoints of the two characters.

Mariam is born near Herat in 1959. She is the illegitimate daughter of Jalil, who is wealthy, and Nana, who was a servant in his house. As a child, Mariam lives with her mother in an isolated hut. At the age of fifteen, she is forced to marry Rasheed, a much older man.

Laila is born in Kabul on the night of the coup of April 1978. During her first fourteen years, she spends most of her time with her best friend, Tariq. Soon after the Mujahideen start bombing Kabul, Tariq and his parents flee to Pakistan, Laila's parents are killed, and Laila reluctantly consents to become Rasheed's second wife. She and Mariam eventually form a strong bond.

Rasheed, Tariq, and Jalil are the secondary characters. Jalil, Mariam's father, visits her once a week and treats her with affection throughout her childhood. But he marries her off as soon as she gets in his way. Rasheed, Mariam and Laila's husband, forces them to wear burkas and abuses them whenever they displease him. Tariq, Laila's best friend and childhood sweetheart, returns to Afghanistan to see Laila. The two eventually marry.

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Who are major characters and what are their descriptions in A Thousand Splendid Suns?

One of the main characters is Miriam. She is a submissive person. This means she gives in and accepts other peoples' authority over her whether they actually have a right to exert authority over her or not. As a result of her submissiveness, Jalil does not defend her when she is in need of help and defence.

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