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Gender Privilege

Endure. One word, one action that describes the entire life of an Afghan woman. In the novel A

Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini utilizes the concept of domestic injustice in the life of Mariam to send

a message about gender inequality and the effect of a nation’s culture on its peoples’ ideas, morals, and

actions. Mariam, an underprivileged Afghan girl, is the victim of domestic injustice at the hands of her

father and husband, who belittle her and bring her pain. It is only when she meets Laila that she finds

compassion, love, and justice.

In her youth Mariam lacks wealth, status, and a father at home. Born a harami—a bastard—

Mariam’s birth is an event that brings shame and embarrassment to her parents. As a child, Mariam

idolizes her father, Jalil, who showers her with gifts and praise when he goes to see her each week. Jalil

soon exposes his true colors, allowing Mariam to sleep on the street rather than bring her into his home

when she goes looking for him. After the event, “Mariam kept thinking of the face in the window” (35).

Disgustedly, she recounts how “he let her sleep on the street” (35). Her father is too ashamed of her

existence to take her in. Because Afghan culture sees illegitimate children so negatively, Jalil allows

social status to shape his actions and morals. He is willing to sacrifice integrity in order to uphold his

societal image. Jalil is also to blame for the domestic injustice Mariam faces in regards to being

forgotten. When Mariam’s mother asks Jalil if he now has ten children, he responds “yes, ten” (22). Her

mother must remind him “Eleven, if you count Mariam, of course” (22). His embarrassment at her

existence becomes clear when Jalil refuses to even count her as his own child. Mariam, still a young

child, does not fully understand the injustice in her life and she defends her father. After her mother

commits suicide, Mariam, against the inner hopes of both her and Jalil, must go to live with her father,

his two wives, and their children. Soon after her arrival, Mariam is met with a second blow of injustice at
the hands of her father. He arranges a marriage for her, forcing her to accept the proposal of a man

thirty years her senior. When Mariam hesitates before accepting marriage, Jalil urges her, “’Mariam,’

Jalil whispered. ‘Yes,’ she said shakily” (53). As a female in Afghanistan, Mariam must endure the

domestic injustice forced on her by men. She acts as a dutiful Afghan girl, accepting her fate without

complaint. Jalil, who represents the typical traditional Afghan father, abuses his daughter who, as a girl,

is of little value to him.

In marriage, Mariam is faced with both verbal and physical injustice. The gender inequality in

Afghanistan is made obvious when Rasheed forces Mariam to wear a burqa. He declares “Where I come

from a woman’s face is her husband’s business only” (70). The absolute control men hold over women is

a reflection of the societal idea held by Afghanistan that men are superior to women. Rasheed exercises

authority and control over Mariam’s actions, adding to the oppression of Afghan women. Mariam

silently accepts the injustice, allowing the belief in the inferiority of women to control her domestic life.

Rasheed also abuses Mariam with physical injustice. At one point, he forces Mariam to chew rocks in

order to prove a point. Afterward, Rasheed abandons her “leaving Mariam to spit out pebbles, blood,

and the fragments of two broken molars” (104). Here, a shift occurs in Mariam’s life. Rather than solely

being the victim of psychological abuse, she is attacked with physical injustices. Mariam, paralyzed with

fear, allows Rasheed to abuse her both physically and mentally. In their marriage, Mariam is constantly

berated with insults and accusations. Rasheed attacks her, asking “’you know nothing, do you? You’re

like a child’” (98). This confirms the gender inequality in Afghanistan. As a woman, Mariam is viewed as

inferior and unintelligent. She cannot defend herself, but must endure the injustice quietly. Paralleling

what is considered a normal marriage in Afghanistan, Mariam is inferior to her husband, who abuses his

power and attacks her physically and emotionally.

After years of injustice, Mariam finally finds companionship and, through this, justice in her life.

Laila, who is taken in by Rasheed after her parents are killed in a bomb explosion, becomes his second
wife. Although their relationship is originally unstable and competitive, the two women bond and realize

the importance of their relationship. At one point, when Rasheed is moving to attack Mariam, Laila takes

action and stops him from hitting her. Afterward, Mariam admits “the other night when he…Nobody’s

ever stood up for me before” (250). Mariam, who has spent a lifetime learning to accept injustice, is

unsure of how to accept an act of justice. After this event, Laila becomes a vital part in Mariam’s life and

quest for happiness. Mariam also finds justice after killing Rasheed in order to save Laila. In order to

allow Laila and her children to escape safely, Mariam turns herself in, understanding this will lead to her

execution. Before her death, Mariam realizes “she was leaving this world as a woman who had loved

and been loved back” (370). Through this realization, Mariam defies every injustice ever thrust upon

her. She reaches personal justice, allowing herself to feel self-acceptance. Here, Mariam’s thoughts

counter the ideas of the country. She understands her self-worth and the significance of her life. Finally,

Mariam is met with justice even after her death. In the final pages of the novel, Laila is determining a

name for her child. She does not have to think of girl names however, “Because, if it’s a girl, Laila has

already named her” (415). Laila, who came to love Mariam, shows her respect and justice by vowing to

name her daughter after Mariam. Although not until the final moments of her life, Mariam is successful

in her search for justice. Mariam’s deep understanding of justice becomes obvious in her thoughts just

before her execution, in which she expresses confidence and appreciation of her own value..

Throughout Mariam’s life, the injustices she is the victim of are representations of Afghan

culture and the gender inequality that exists within the nation. Mariam’s quest to discover justice is

marked by violence and suffering, muddied by the psychological and physical abuse the men in her life