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 symbolizes physical and emotional shelter for Mariam and Laila in A Thousand Splendid Suns?

Quick answer:

Mariam and Laila are both emotionally and physically sheltered by people throughout the novel. Their first physical symbol of shelter is the kolba. Mariam and her mother return to it after her mother's divorce, only to be forced back out into the streets when her brothers arrive for Ration Day with a new wife for her father. From there, Mullah Faizulla becomes a source of comfort for Mariam, as she listens to Mariam's longings and provides religious guidance. Laila finds physical shelter in school during World War II, when she must wear a burkha and stay inside during recess due to bombings that occur outside on the streets. She also finds emotional shelter in Tariq'

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Mariam's first physical symbol of shelter is her kolba, or small cottage, that she lives in with her mother until she is fifteen. It is very humble, and initially Mariam longs to live in her father's larger home, but when her mother dies and she goes to live with her father, she realizes how cold and lonely his house is and wishes to return to the kolba.

Another symbol of shelter is Ration Day. This is the day when her stepbrothers bring rations to the kolba. Mariam is disturbed by her mother's throwing stones at her brothers, but Ration Day gives her a sense of stability, as she knows she and her mother are being provided for.

Mullah Faizulla is a symbol of comfort and compassion for Mariam. She is a source of emotional shelter because she listens intently to Mariam's longings and provides religious and personal guidance.


School is a very important shelter for Laila, both physically and emotionally. She is proud that she is allowed to go to school and be an independent woman.

Tariq and his home and family are also sources of shelter for Laila. She feels happy and loved in their home and frequently goes there when she is young. Tariq is more of a brother to her than her two real brothers ever were. Tariq shows her his gun and vows to protect her.

Mariam and Laila

Aziza is a symbol of shelter for both Mariam and Laila. In her, they find their perfect love, and she brings the two of them together. They unite through their love for this child, and they provide strength and comfort for each other.

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