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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Student Question

Why does Mariam refuse to escape with Laila and Tariq in A Thousand Splendid Suns?

Quick answer:

Mariam refuses to escape with Laila and Tariq in A Thousand Splendid Suns because she understands that in their society, someone will have to pay for Rasheed's death. She offers herself as a sacrifice so that Laila can continue living and caring for her children, whom Mariam also loves dearly.

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In chapter 45, Rasheed attacks both Laila and Mariam. After Laila smashes a glass into the side of his face, Rasheed grabs her around the neck, intent on killing her. Mariam leaves the room to get a shovel, unwilling to allow Laila to die. She hits Rasheed in the head, and he turns to her, sneering. Realizing that he will murder them both if she doesn't take further action, Mariam hits him again, this time with every bit of strength she can muster. Rasheed dies.

In this societal context, which is heavily influenced by the Taliban, women must follow increasingly strict laws and are seen as "contemptible" (chapter 37). Mariam is older than Laila and discerns the truth about Rasheed's death. Justice will be demanded for his death—regardless of how reprehensible he was. Mariam tells Laila that someone is going to have to pay for this "crime," and she offers herself as a sacrifice so that Laila, Tariq, and the children will not have to live the rest of their days "like fugitives." Laila begs Mariam to reconsider, but Mariam insists that Laila needs to view the situation "like a mother." If they are both caught, there will be no one left to protect the children.

Mariam insists that living with Laila and her children has fulfilled every wish she'd ever had as a young girl. Mariam finally found the happiness which had always eluded her, and she was willing to end her life so that Laila and the children could continue living. Mariam refuses to leave because of her own maternal instincts, despite the fact that she has never been a biological mother. She places the welfare of those she loves ahead of her own life. As she walks to her death, she considers her actions a "legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings" (chapter 47).

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