Feminism in “A Thousand Splendid Suns” | By Uzma Ali

Feminism in General

Feminism is a series of movements and ideologies, which focus on the basic rights of females. The word feminism was first coined by French philosopher and socialist Charles Fourier in (1837). The aim of feminism is to create social, cultural, and political equality between both the genders. The movement first started in Europe followed in France and Netherlands in 1872, it entered in Britain in 1890, and in United States in 1910. Allthe three waves of feminism discussfemales’ problems with different aspects. The first wave of feminism fought for the legal rights of women such as the right to vote, and own property. It took place in the late 19th and early 20th century. The second wave occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, at the time women were politically strong to some extent, so they demanded some greater rights. These are the rights for equal pay, freedom from sexual and physical violence, access to safe and legal abortion, and right of education in universities.Third wave of feminism stared in the 1990s, discuss the issues like race, ethnicity and sexual identity. It continued to fight for the same rights and principle as in the second wave. The author Rebecca west wrote in 1913: “I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat”.

Feminist Theory:

Feminist theory focuses on the representation of women in literature. Through this theory one can easily understand the difference between genders in a literary text of a particular society. This theory also has four sub-types such as;

  1. Historical feminist criticism
  2. Psychoanalytic feminist criticism
  3. Socialist feminist criticism
  4. Black feminist criticism

Feminism in the Novel “A Thousand Splendid Suns

A thousand splendid suns is written by an Afghan-American author Khalid Husseini, published in (2007). In this novel he has discussed status and suffering of women in a patriarchal Afghan society. The setting of the novel is arranged in the war zone, with the civil war, Thaliban have taken control over certain liberties of women, which they were enjoying before the war. In Thaliban rule women suffer a lot just because of their sex, as they are not allowed to visit markets without any mahram, not in the universities, and the worst of all they are not allowed to go hospitals. Female doctors are forced to work in “Burka”even in Operation Theater.There are two female protagonists in the novel Mariam and Laila both of them face social, physical, and mental torture but at the end they struggle for their freedom and prove themselves strong women and take a bold decision for their survival.

Male Subjugation/ Patriarchy

All the female characters in the novel, Nana, Mariam, Laila, and, Aziza encounter the male subjugation in the society. Mariam and her mother Nana are unacceptable for the society as Mariam is an illegitimate child. They are living behind the mountains and the only person who comes to their home is the “Mullah Faizullah” who teaches Mariam the Holy Quran. Mariam’s father Jalil is a wealthy businessman, a cinema owner he already has three wives and eleven children. He supports Mariam and her mother financially but refuses to own them as a family. He loves Mariam, but he doesn’t want to introduce her in the society with his name. Once Mariam expresses her desire of watching a film in cinema with him, Jalil gives her the excuse that picture and sound quality is not good. When Mariam insists then he says he will send someone to take her to the cinema. Jalil’s other children even his daughters are going to schools and cinema but not Mariam. There is also the element of ‘othering’ as Mariam is treated like others.

“One day, as they were walking, Mariam told him that she wished she would be allowed to go to school”  

Nana behavior shows that she has suffered psychologically a lot by the society because of Mariam and her relation with Jalil. She abuses Mariam and calls her a little “Harami”, her behavior shows that she hates Jalil and his family. She tells Mariam several times that she has no one in this world except her. Mariam wants to live with her father and her siblings and to fulfil that desire, one day she leaves her mother. She has spent all the night on the street but her father does notallow her to enter in his house, he sends her back to her mother. When Mariam comes back Nana has committed suicide, the betrayal of her daughter is above than all the insult and suffering she experience. A sub type of feminism that deals with mental state and unconscious of a character (psychoanalytic feminism), shows the mental illness of Nana. Mariam considers herself responsible for her mother’s death the next day after Nana’s burial Jalil takes Mariam to his home. Where Mariam is unacceptable for her step mothers and siblings. They have arranged her marriage with forty-years-old man without her will and permission. This shows a highly male dominant society and a socially weak role of women, that Mariam is even not allowed to take her own decision. Nana could not convince Jalil for a legal bond of marriage, even after giving birth to his daughter.

Concept of “Mirror”

After marriage Mariam comes to Kabul with her husband Rasheed, in Kabul burqa is mandatory for women in markets and also in educational institutions. In the beginning Mariam feels difficulty wearing a burqa, but then she feels comfortable in it. Burqa shows limitations imposed on women, Rashid tells Mariam that before Taliban rule in Kabul women are free to go to markets, ride cars, get higher education and work like males. Rashid behavior at start is pleasant when she conceive he takes care of her as he wants a son. Mariam takes her pregnancy as a new start but unfortunately her miscarriage makes the things worse for her. This is the start of snowy season and she remembers the words of her mother that each snowflake is the sigh of a woman suffering somewhere in the world.

Mariam prefers to stay at home she feels jealous of her neighbor women, who play with their children outside. Rasheed behavior has changed with the incident he becomes silent and rude towards Mariam. After her second and third miscarriage he starts beating, abusing and give her mental torture. He calls her with abusive words and treat her bitter than slaves. Her presence becomes intolerable for Rasheed even one day he has filled her mouth with stones and forces her to chew that as could not make properly cooked rice…. He realizes that now she is not able to give him a son.

Laila is the third wife of Jalil, she is a young, intelligent and beautiful teenage girl. She has lived in a prosperous and educated family. Her father Hakim is a kind man towards women and focuses on Laila’s education more than anything. She loves her childhood friend Tariq and they are planning for their marriage but because of war conditions, Tariq with his family moves towards Pakistan.  Her two brothers are killed in the war and one day a bomb hits her house and her parents die. As a neighbor Jalil brings her to his house as she has severe injuries on her body.Rasheed proposed her and she accepts the proposal, as to marry with Rasheed is the only option left with her to hide her pregnancy from Tariq. After a little time of her marriage Laila gives Rasheed the news of her pregnancy, again Rasheed starts thinking of a boy but Laila gives birth to a baby girl Aziza. Rasheed attitude also becomes rude with Laila and starts torturing her. Both the women give a complete sense of the “feminist termmirroring

There is the element of “socialist feminist criticism” both the government and the society oppressed females. One day Rasheed starts beating Mariam at that time Laila comes and save her from his aggression.An environment of friendly relation starts between the two ladies and Laila encourages Mariam to revolt against the oppression. Unfortunately, their attempt to run away has failed badly because of the narrow minded Taliban governed society that women are travelling without any mahram. People informed the police and police after investigation handed them over to Rasheed. Rasheed locked them and threaten them inhumanly, after several days punishment when they realize that they are going to die especially little Aziza. Rasheed warns them, that if they repeat the same act, then he will kill them. The laws enforced by the Thaliban government give man the authority to abuse and victimize women.

Laila gives birth to a boy Zalmai in pathetic condition, hospitals are closed for ladies and there are no basic medication a lady doctor operate her without anesthesia. Rasheed financial condition becomes worse and they send Aziza to orphanage, once again woman suffers as a child. “Laila life suddenly revolvedaround findingways to see Aziza” she walks alone to meet Aziza and every day she is beaten by Taliban. Every day they ask questions like, “what is your name?Where are you going? Why are you alone? Where is your mahram? …….if she was lucky, she was given a tongue-lashing or a single kick to the rear, other times she met with assortment of wooden clubs, fresh tree branches, short whips, slaps, oftenfists”.

She starts wearing extra layers beneath her burqa, to protect herself from the beatings. Most of the times she comes home with bloodied body.

There is a sudden return of Tariq in the life of Laila, they meet each other and both tell one another their story of sufferings. Zalmai tells his father that her mother meet a man without hiding her face and Rasheed starts beating Laila. When Mariam realizes that now Laila’s face turns blue and she is going to die from suffocation then Mariam hits Rasheed with a shovel and he dies.  Mariam for the first time in her life takes a bold step not for herself but for Laila’s life. She tells Laila to leave Kabul and go somewhere with Tariq and children while she decides to confess her sin in law court.

In prison there are many women who directly or indirectly break the strict laws of Taliban, among them Mariam is the only with a true crime. There is a woman named Naghma, she has tried to elope with mullah’s son when Thaliban has caught them he said that Naghma has cast a spell on him so, Taliban sets free the man and they imprison the girl. Mariam remembers her mother’s warning; man can always find a woman to blame.

In Thaliban court women are treated unfairly, in Mariam case a Judge claim that woman testimony not worth able as compare to man. One older Judge seems honest to ‘Sharia’s law’. This is the second time when Mariam has signed a document, last time she has signed it twenty-seven years before. The only wish occurred in her mind is to see Laila and Aziza again, she like the thought that one day Aziza will be grown up she will be old and will play with Aziza’s children.

“No. it was not so bad, Mariam thought that she should die this way. Not so bad. This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings”.

Liberal Feminism

 Focuses on woman’s ability to maintain their equality through their own actions and choices. Laila has married Tariq in Murree she tells Aziza that Tariq is her real father. She is really happy in Murree but there is something that calls her to Kabul. Some political changes occurred in the politics of Afghanistan and it seems that war is about to end. Laila tells Tariq that how much she misses Kabul, she knows that how much Afghanis sacrifice in this war. She wants to go back to a country where her two brothers, parents, and Mariam died. Laila visits Herath, the village of Gull Daman, she meets Mullah Faizullah son and he gives her a box, which Jalil has given to his father. Laila says good bye to Mariam. In the box there is a letter and some CDS.

Laila comes back to Kabul, she visits the orphanage where now things have changed. A beautiful garden and wall are painted with children’s paintings, when she entered in the school children run towards her and they call her mother. A newspaper that is published in Afghanistan give a picture of Tariq, Zaman and Laila. She pays tribute to the memory of Mariam and thinks that Mariam is everywhere, in the orphanage ground, in the children smile and in the recitation of Aziza. Laila is pregnant for the third time and she decides to name her Mariam.


At the start of the novel women suffer a lot, they tolerate domestic violence and mental torture but then they realize to take a stand up for their rights. Mariam action of killing her husband is the reaction of the past twenty-seven years of torture. Laila’s action to come in front as nation builder, (teacher) is inspirable.