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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What are examples of irony in A Thousand Splendid Suns?

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Examples of irony in Thousand Splendid Suns include when Laila tells Tariq that she will not cry over him in a thousand years (verbal irony), when Rasheed tells Laila that he would rather sleep alone (dramatic irony), and when Mariam marries out of convenience but learns that her lover is still alive (situational irony).

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There are many examples of irony—verbal, dramatic, and situational—in Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns.

The first category of irony is verbal, which occurs when a character says one thing but means another. For example, when Jalil’s wife, Afsoon, tells Mariam they have good news for her—that they have found her a husband—it is actually good news for them but bad news for her. It is verbal irony when a character protests too much. When Laila tells Tariq she won’t cry over him in a thousand years, they both know otherwise. When they watch a romantic wedding scene, they say, “I’m never getting married” and “Weddings are stupid” when in fact they both desire a wedding. Sarcasm is another venue of verbal irony. A shopkeeper assures Rasheed that an item is valuable, and Rasheed replies, “And I’m Moshe Dayan” (in reference to the famous Israeli statesman).

When irony is dramatic, readers know something the characters don't know. There are several scenes of dramatic irony involving Rasheed, Mariam, and Laila. When Rasheed tells Laila he hopes she doesn't mind that he prefers to sleep alone, readers know she would prefer it too. When Rasheed thinks he is consoling Laila when he tells her there is no shame in married sex, readers know she feels not shame but loathing for him.

In situational irony, actions produce unintended or unexpected outcomes. In this novel, the lives of Mariam and Laila contain several examples of situational irony. Mariam worships a father who abandoned her and she has little sympathy for her harsh mother, until she learns too late who really cared for her. She lives a bitter loveless life, finally finding love with a woman she at first loathed, then loses her life just when she is happy. Laila’s beginnings are happier than Mariam’s, but when she finds herself pregnant she makes a marriage of convenience—only to learn that her lover is still alive. In Rasheed’s household, Mariam is docile and Laila is assertive, but in the end it is Mariam’s strength that saves Laila and her children.

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Khaled Hosseini uses many examples of irony in A Thousand Splendid Suns. One example of situational irony occurs when Laila drops off her daughter Aziza at the orphanage because Rasheed is unable to earn enough money to feed the full family. Laila does not want to tell Aziza the truth about why Aziza is going to an orphanage, so Laila tells Aziza that the orphanage is a special school. However, Aziza later learns many lessons in the orphanage and gains the advantage of an education. This is a strong example of situational irony, because it reverses our expectations. Laila's lie—that the orphanage is a special school—actually turns out to be true: the orphanage offers Aziza a good education.

An example of dramatic irony occurs when Laila meets with Zaman, the director of the orphanage, to drop off Aziza. When Zaman asks why Aziza is being released to an orphanage, Laila tells the director that Aziza’s father has died. This statement creates dramatic irony because Laila thinks she's sneakily telling the truth—but the reader knows that she actually isn't. Laila does not know that Aziza’s biological father is still alive and that her subtle truth is actually an out-and-out falsehood. Hosseini uses these misunderstandings to add a dramatic effect to his story.

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A Thousand Splendid Suns features examples of situational irony, in which the outcome is different from what is originally intended. One example of situational irony is Rasheed's marriage to Laila. Rasheed marries Laila because she is young, and he wants her to give birth to a son. Instead, she gives birth to a daughter (who is not really Rasheed's child), and Rasheed turns abusive towards her. While Mariam initially disliked Rasheed's marriage to Laila, the two women become intense friends because they are both abused by Rasheed. Later, Mariam kills Rasheed, which allows Laila and her true love, Tariq, to escape to a better life. 

Another example of situational irony is what happens to the package that Jalil, Mariam's father, had left for her when she was young. It contained money and a tape of the movie Pinocchio (the movie she had hoped to see at his cinema when she was a teenager). Jalil later was remorseful about marrying off Mariam to Rasheed. Laila decides to use the money to start an orphanage. Ultimately, the money Jalil left helps children, but it is too late to help Mariam, who has been executed for the murder of the devilish Rasheed. 

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What are three examples of verbal irony in A Thousand Splendid Suns? How do they relate to the purpose of the story?

One example of verbal irony in A Thousand Splendid Suns is in chapter 23 when Laila tells Tariq, “Your mother would kill you if she knew about your smoking.” This quote qualifies as verbal irony because Laila does not mean that Tariq’s mom will literally kill him. She’s overstating the reaction of Tariq’s mom and intentionally using the word inaccurately. The verbal irony relates to the purpose of Khaled Hosseini’s story because it shows the importance of family. Tariq’s mom cares about him so much that she’ll “kill” him if she spots her son jeopardizing his health.

A second example of verbal irony can be found at the end of chapter 47. About to be killed by the Taliban, Mariam reflects on her life. She came into this world “a weed.” This is verbal irony because Mariam was not born a literal weed. Like Laila’s quote, this quote utilizes overstatement. Hosseini exaggerates Mariam’s position in society to illuminate what she’s accomplished.

The verbal irony continues when Hosseini writes that Mariam has “become a person of consequence at last.” This statement serves as verbal irony due to its incongruity. It might strike some as odd that only on the cusp of death does Mariam realize her importance. As with the first example, these instances of verbal irony relate to the purpose of the novel because they touch on community and family.

For a third example of verbal irony, review some of the other scenes between Tariq and Laila. The two of them frequently use verbal irony to express their deep bond.

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