Study Guide: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - BookNotes

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The Inner Strength of Women

The theme of the inner strength of women is the most prevalent theme. Both characters, Mariam and Laila, are forced into life situations which challenge their strength and their ability to endure. Mariam is born illegitimate in a world which turns their back on such women. She is later forced into a marriage to a cruel, abusive man and endures twenty-seven years with him. She bonds with Laila later in her life, which allows her to understand that she can love and be loved in return. In the end, her great strength allows her to face the sacrifice she makes of her own life to save the ones she loves. As for Laila, she is born into a somewhat privileged world in that she has parents who love her and a father who believes she deserves a life where she is valued and loved. Although her mother spends much of Lailaís childhood grieving for her lost sons, Laila endures her Mammyís setbacks with love and as much understanding as she can give. Later, when she finds herself pregnant to Tariq, who she believes is dead, she marries Rasheed to protect her unborn child. She, too, endures the abuse of her husband and fights back against whenever she can even though it means she will be beaten. In the end, he nearly kills her, but when Mariam insists she flee with Tariq and the children, she recognizes she must live for her childrenís sake even though it means the death of Mariam alone for the crime of murdering their husband. She then accepts her responsibility to honor the memories of her parents and Mariam by rebuilding Kabul and her country as a strong, determined example to all her countrywomen.

The Human Capacity for Evil

The theme of the human capacity for evil is also an important idea. Throughout the novel, Mariamís motherís belief that a manís finger always comes to point to a woman is reinforced in how the various factions strive to control the country no matter how many innocent people die. Of course, this mostly means women and children. The Soviets invade and run roughshod over the rights of everyone, which impacts the most on women. There are rapes and murders and of course, the inevitable results of battle. Then, the Mujahideen is victorious over the Soviets, but they soon degenerate into warlords striving with each other for control of territory. This, too impacts on women when the rockets explode over their homes and kill them and their children. The men never stop to think about the loss of life. They are only concerned with winning, no matter the cost. The last and most difficult rulers of Afghanistan are the Taliban. Their strict adherence to Shariía forces women into their home with no way to support their children, forces them to cover with the burqa to further wipe out their individuality, denies them even basic health care by closing their hospitals, and then punishes them if they break any of the laws the Taliban have set down. It is basic cruelty for no reason other than they are women.

The Discrimination of Women

The theme of the discrimination of women reinforces how cruel men can be against the feminine side of a culture. Women are never really free even when the government is more democratic, because of the belief that the Koran allows them to have total control over their wives. A man, like Rasheed, can decide, even when women are relatively modern, that their wives must wear the burqa. They can beat them and even kill them in the name of their honor. They can keep them at home and deny them basic rights without punishment. All of this is further forced upon all women, no matter the attitudes of their husbands, when the Taliban comes to power. Lailaís Babi believed that a society could not flourish if their women were suppressed. This can be seen in wartorn Afghanistan.

Loyalty and Devotion

Another theme that is emphasized throughout is that of loyalty and devotion. The female characters know the reward as well as the heartache of this emotion, yet they ccontinue to feel it for those they love and need. Mariam, for example cannot quite stop loving her father, Jalil, even though he turns his back on her and forces her to marry Rasheed. Then, she comes to love and respect Laila and never stops being loyal and devoted, giving what they call the last full measure for her and her children - her life. Laila loves Tariq, but when he and his family flee Afghanistan, she refuses to marry him and leave with them, because she loves and feels too great a devotion to her parents. Later, even though she doesnít want to marry Rasheed, she does so to protect her unborn baby. Finally, even though she is devoted to Mariam, she knows her devotion to her children takes precedence and forces her to leave her country when staying would mean her death and no one to care for the children.


The rising action begins with Mariamís story of her childhood and ends with the climax which is the death of Rasheed at Mariamís hands.


After Rasheed is dead, the two women hide his body in the shed and then make plans to escape the country. Mariam knows all along that they cannot both go, because then they might both be caught and there will be no one to care for and protect Lailaís children. So, even though Laila is convinced they can make it together, Mariam refuses to leave, willing to face death rather than Laila dying, too. Mariam is executed by the Taliban, and Laila comes to live for awhile in Murree, Pakistan with Tariq and the children. She eventually realizes that to honor the sacrifices of her parents and Mariam, she must return to her country to be one of thos who strive to rebuild it. She says goodbye to Mariam at the kolba in Herat and she and her family go back to Kabul.


It is written third person point of view from the perspective of an omniscient narrator.

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