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Jacob McGill The Search Results The primary focus of my research was on the effects of the political changes

that took place in Afghanistan throughout A Thousand Splendid Suns. When the novel opens, Daoud Khan, the former Prime Minister of Kabul, is the new President of Afghanistan following a bloodless coup staged while former King Zahir Shah was out of the country. In 1978, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan seized power, leading to a civil war between government forces and the rebel mujahedeen. The DPA was allied with the Soviet Union, who sent troops into Afghanistan to assist in the fight against the rebels. Since the rebels were being supplied by the United States and the Afghani government was being supplied by the USSR, the war continued to escalate. The major superpowers involved in Afghanistan’s civil war agreed to pull their support, and the socialist government eventually fell to rebel forces in 1992 (“Afghanistan Profile”). However, this was the beginning of another violent civil war. During the war, the Taliban arose as a major political and religious force. By 1997, Taliban forces controlled about two-thirds of Afghanistan and the Taliban were recognized as the legitimate rulers of the country by several neighboring nations (“Afghanistan Profile”). Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States of America launched an invasion of Afghanistan in order to remove the Taliban (and the terrorist group al-Qaeda) from power. In December of 2001, an interim government led by President Hamid Karzai was established. The first political upheaval that is shown to significantly affect Mariam and Laila is the first civil war between the Soviet-backed government forces and the American-backed rebels. Early in the novel, Mariam goes to live with her father Jalil after her mother commits suicide. Jalil’s wives want Mariam gone as quickly as possible, since she is Jalil’s only illegitimate child.

They convince him to marry her to Rasheed, a widowed man from Kabul. It is at this point in the story that we first see things from Laila’s perspective. Laila is living down the street from Mariam and Jalil with her family. Both of Laila’s brothers go off to fight in the civil war, and they are both killed in combat. Laila finds comfort throughout the war with her best friend Tariq, who she eventually falls in love with. The pair make love for the first time before Tariq and his family flee the country to escape the war. Soon after, Laila’s parents decide to flee Afghanistan like the others, but before they can leave, a missile strikes their house, killing them both and wounding Laila. Mariam and Rasheed care for Laila, who is told by a visiting stranger that Tariq has been killed. Laila, who realizes she is pregnant with Tariq’s child, agrees to marry Rasheed. This sequence of events is one of the most prominent examples of the effect the violent political changes in Afghanistan have on Miriam and Laila. The civil war between government and rebel forces leads directly to the death of Laila’s entire family, forcing her to rely on the abusive and manipulative Rasheed, since she believes her true love, Tariq, has died. Laila’s actions reveal the dominating attitude about women in Afghanistan. That is, that they are incapable of being independent, and that they must rely on men to support them. The mere fact that Laila sees marrying Rasheed as her only option further proves that the patriarchal society of Afghanistan has stripped women of their ability to make independent decisions. As the novel goes on, the Taliban come into power in Kabul, and they begin to enforce their rigid Islamic law on the Afghani population. The Taliban’s rule contributes to the further subjugation of women arguably more than any other single event. The Taliban’s code of Islamic law includes barring women from working, denying women education and healthcare, forcing women to cover themselves completely, requiring women to have a male escort when in public,

and many more degrading and dehumanizing policies (“The Taliban’s War”). All of the Taliban’s laws serve to further objectify women and break down any power they might have. Since her birth, Mariam is constantly taken advantage of and abused by the men in her life. Her father Jalil, kicked her and her mother out of his house after having an affair with Mariam’s mother. He visits Mariam when she is a child, but it is clear he does not actually care about her. This is demonstrated by his promise to take her to his cinema in the city of Herat for her birthday. After making this promise to Mariam, he does not show up to take her to the movie, causing her to decide to visit him in the city. When she arrives at Jalil’s house, Mariam is refused entry and is driven home by Jalil’s chauffeur. Jalil’s treatment of Mariam demonstrates a clear lack of love for her and lack of concern for her emotional well-being. When Mariam is dropped off at her house, she discovers that her mother has committed suicide, since she believes Mariam has left her for Jalil. This devastates Mariam, but leads to her moving in with her father. After moving in with Jalil, Mariam is treated like an object and is sold off to marry Rasheed, due to the influence of Jalil’s wives. Rasheed seems kind at first, but after Mariam suffers several miscarriages, it becomes clear that Rasheed too sees her only as an object to be used to give him another son. When Mariam, in Rasheed’s eyes, fails to do what she is meant to do, Rasheed becomes progressively more physically and verbally abusive. All of these events in Mariam’s childhood serve to illustrate the pervasive patriarchal society that dominates Afghanistan, even when not under Taliban rule. Using Rasheed and the Taliban, Hosseini “relentlessly exposes the injustices to which women are subjected” (Baron). Laila’s eventual marriage to Rasheed is a compelling example of how the domineering patriarchy in Afghanistan enforces limits on the opportunities available to women. After her family is killed, Laila is presented with no other option other than marrying Rasheed, tying

herself to an abusive and manipulative husband. One of the reasons Laila believes that marriage is her only option is Rasheed’s manipulative nature. He secretly arranged for someone to tell Laila that Tariq was killed so that she would be forced to stay with him. When Laila first enters Mariam and Rasheed’s household, Mariam is uncomfortable with her presence, but the two soon form a strong bond to resist Rasheed’s abuse, especially after the birth of Laila’s first child, Aziza. Laila continues to antagonize Rasheed, which typically leads to an increase in his abusive behavior. In doing this, Laila acts as “a prominent force of radical feminism” (Singh 92). The strong bond formed between Laila and Mariam against the oppressive male influence around them eventually leads Mariam to sacrifice everything for Laila’s sake. When Tariq returns and Laila realizes he is not dead, Rasheed savagely beats her. Mariam intervenes and kills Rasheed with a shovel to protect Laila and her children. She then turns herself over to the Taliban to ensure Laila’s safety. Mariam’s sacrifice demonstrates the caring nature of not only herself, but of women as a whole in the male-dominated society of Afghanistan. Her actions are also her way of standing up for herself and finally “deciding the course of her own life” (Hosseini 349). Throughout the novel, the actions of the male and female characters can be contrasted to prove that the oppressive patriarchy leads men to abuse and take advantage of women. This forces women to rely on each other for strength, giving them hope to survive the many difficulties they face. As Mariam’s mother says, “There is only one, only one skill a woman…needs. And it’s this: tahamul. Endure” (Hosseini 18). Mariam’s mother believes that all a woman needs to know is how to endure the difficulties she may face. Even this attitude is indicative of the oppressive society that is so powerful in Afghanistan.

Through the struggles of all of his female characters, Hosseini successfully “lays bare the truly horrendous existence of women and girls” in Afghanistan (Thompson). Throughout the novel, as a result of the political changes that take place, the place of women in society fluctuates, but it always remains well below the status of the men in Afghani society.