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  • 1. Malhotra 1Rhea MalhotraMs. WilsonAP Multicultural Literature12 February 2013 Gender Roles in KhaledHosseini’sA Thousand Splendid Suns For the latest American fashions, skirts become shorter and shorter, as the shirts risehigher and higher; however, Afghani style is the same as it was twenty years ago: burquascovering women from head to toe. At a point of advancement, Afghanistan’s women began to adapt western thinking,expanding their place in society. They began to hold government offices, medical positions andmake their mark on society. This form of life was quickly overturned with the entrance of theTaliban into Afghanistan. Author, KhaledHosseini, left Kabul in a state of development in 1976and was shocked to see what had become of the economic capital of Afghanistan. Streets wereleft bloodied, men hung from cranes and women forbidden to leave their homes. Hosseini’sworks are set in the city of Kabul, and emphasize thoughts of equality, prejudice and barriers thathave been built to seal a potentially triumphant nation, into a nation in an ever-lasting state ofchaos. Before the Taliban entered Afghanistan, the economy was stabilizing; the women werevisioning a country that belonged to them and the citizens of Afghanistan saw hope in theircountry’s future. Women began to emerge into respected jobs, and people began to adapt
  • 2. Malhotra 2“modern” ideals. With the entrance of the Taliban, however, the new norm was disrupted and theunprogressive status quo was reinstated – demoralizing women further. Through the harsh imagery, vivid verbs and genderlectin A Thousand Splendid Suns,KhaledHosseiniaddresses Afghanistan’sinability to progress and urges changes to the country’spatriarchal structure. Men’s oppression of women begins with the language exchanged between the genders,implicating symbols of silencing women. In A Thousand Splendid Suns, “genderlect,” typicalspeech patterns between characters, demonstrates verbal barriers men create for women (Githens1). With full control of the household, Rasheed rarely gives Laila and Mariam the chance tochallenge his voice. Making his viewthe only view. Although conversations are common, theexchange of dialogue is focused around Rasheed’s comments, followed by Mariam’s inability tocomment. Even with Mariam’s voice meekly seeking acceptance from her husband, Rasheednever fails “to maintain the upper hand in a conversation” (Githens 1).Mariam persists to gainknowledge of the world that has kept her uneducated; however Rasheed diminishes her hopes bycreating verbal barriers, with harsh comments accusing her of having a “brain [which] is empty”(Hosseini 98). Such barriers result in isolationdue todominated conversations and demeaningcomments, which “chip away at [Mariam’s] feeling of self-worth and independence” (Hidayahsection 3). With Hosseini’s symbolic barriers made through word choice, Mariam’s hopes arediminished to be educated on her country, making her feel like nothing more than Rasheed’suneducated wife. A wife who has no chance of speaking her voice. Laila’s situation is similar,with no chance of a protruding voice, leading Rasheed to resort to “sarcasm, humiliation andinsulting words” (Wahyuni 14). He silences Mariam and Laila. With his booming voice, hecreates a barrier Mariam and Laila cannot pass through (Hosseini 122).Such silencing evolves
  • 3. Malhotra 3into verbal abuse – a type of abuse the women of Afghanistan are constantly subjected to due tosociety’s inability to encourage otherwise – an abuse Hosseini clearly depicts this oppressionwith language. Verbal abuse evolves from women accepting such speech and results in furtheringwomen’s inferior voice. Unable to protest their treatment, women remain further suppressed,being threatened - and cursed by males. Yet, their silent reactions depict their ability to toleratethe pain of threats. A tolerance men lack as well as seen in their need to cease all others’ voicesin order to project their own. Women then feel as if men’s voices, which tend to be louder,deeper and more rash, leave women defenseless, succumbing to “fear and weakness that leads tothe lack of confidence and dependency” (Wahyuni 10). The “modern Afghan women married tomodern Afghan men” have learned to stray away from fear, however, to express the voice insideof them (Hosseini 75). Such women are seen, by dominant males, as attempting to breakboundaries of voice, presenting themselves in a way women have never been seen. Their clothesmake a statement of feminine power, without the need to interrupt or cast away others’ voices.These clothes are “mirror[s] which reflect society;” as the times progress so does the voice andexpression of women (Sastra 7). Hosseini displays a time in Afghanistan dominated by the“terrorist control of wives by their husbands,” which keeps women submissive to men whodemand complete ownership (Kazemiyan 63). By using their superior voices, males keep womenat a level they are unable to rise above. They use threats to oppress women, keeping themselvesat the top of the patriarchal ladder. However, Hosseini develops female characters that speak out,and finally decide not to tolerate the verbal abuse. Laila and Mariam are finally able to end theverbal abuse Rasheed casts upon them. In order to keep women submissive men use monetarymethods to keep their wives dependent by way of financial verbal threats. Such methods result in
  • 4. Malhotra 4women attempting to escape their oppression by “prying [their husband’s] wallet open” andstealing “a single bill” (Hosseini 247). Without enough money to properly nourish their children,Mariam and Laila are forced to steal money that Rasheed uses “as a means of controlling” hiswives (Hidayah section 3). Hosseini’s use of setting up the scene, with Laila “pry[ing]” openRasheed’s wallet at night, causes a tension in the air, a dramatized scene. Keeping the women ina low economic state, makes them rely on the husband’s finances, an abuse from which theeffects are unrecoverable. Such abuse leaves Rasheed threatening Laila, a typical male verbalresponse to an intrusion of power, by stating if “you try this again I will find you” (Hosseini272). By dramatizing the scenes between the villains and heroes, the heroes are constantly beingsubdued by the villains. They are forced to live in a world of villains, since they “could notsurvive” any other world (Hosseini 14). Such intensity creates a deep-seeded “conflict betweenthe heroes and the villains and the dominant tone of the scenes” (Kenzemiyan 56). A conflictwhich is left unresolved, keeping Afghanistan in an immobile, unprogressive state, and leads tomen using harsher means. Yet, when even this form of abuse cannot keep women from risingabove the glass ceiling men have built, men resort to physical abuse. Women’s voice is further masked by physical abuse, which Hosseini intensifies with theuse of vivid imagery and harsh verbs. Such abuse, further subdues women, keeping strongminded individuals “beaten and bloodied” (Hosseini 270). Rasheed knows his wives are able toleave him, though they may not get far. He knows they can speak, although he tries his best tokeep them from doing so. He knows they have potential, yet he uses all his force to beat them tothe bottom of the patriarchal society. Rasheed uses violence to “expand [his] domination over theheroes” (Kazemiyan 59). The heroes, however, continue to be oppressed, after being subjected toextreme physical abuse including Rasheed “destroying and burning objects” (Hidayahsection 3).
  • 5. Malhotra 5Rasheed’s violence is a result of his power-hungry gender. The words used to describe hisviolence are active, powerful and penetrating. Hosseini depictsRasheedbeating the womenconstantly, to keep them living in fear. Living in inferiority. With his time at home he continuesto “slap Aziza,” “kick Mariam” and “[throw] objects” (Hosseini 304). All of these action verbsprovide images of devastation upon the women in the household. In the most violent scenes,Rasheed’s aggression is physically directed towards the mouth – the part of the body which canliterally give women a voice to disrupt a discriminant status quo. When Rasheed turns toviolence, his hands immediately grasp the neck by “tightly clamp[ing] [his hands] around Laila’swindpipe” and using his “powerful hands” to “clasp [around] Mariam’s jaw” (Hosseini 104,347). His beatings leave his daughter on the verge of dehydration, Laila suffocated, and Mariamshoved in a toolshed. His visual beatings are brought to life with Hosseini’s powerful language.His beatings leave the women physically destroyed, but mentally stronger – able to take worsebeatings as they occur. The verb choice and intense imagery keep the scenes of violencedestructive. Society, however, does not protect these women from such a husband. Societyallows this violence to continue – uninterrupted. Society’s emphasis on male dominance causes an inability for women to counter abuse.Hosseini uses Afghanistan’s dark history to intertwine his urge to alter an unequal society. Menwork at the hospitals, in the businesses and in all other shops. Any attempt for women to join thework force causes society to fear an imbalance in its conventional thinking. Scared of change,Afghani officials have put laws in place to maintain the status quo, and oppress women in a statesimilar to that of slaves – the slave owners being, their husbands. A state Hosseini longs tooverturn. Society issues laws to “imprison [women] for running away” from their husbands, asthough they rank as nothing above property, by being forced to “stay inside [their] homes at all
  • 6. Malhotra 6times” (Hosseini 266. 278). Such laws demonstrate the oppression men have placed over women,in an unprogressive Afghanistan. Women are unable to run from men. The Taliban members’words demonstrate a sense of ownership men claim over women. These claims portray a realitywhere the happiness of the man trumps the unjust beating of a female. By not allowing femalesto escape the evils around them, the law continues to place men superior to women; leavingAfghanistan as a stagnant country. A country lacking a work force and modern principles ofequality. The “implementation of such laws discriminate women,” giving them no hope of oneday being equal in stature to men (Wahyuni 14). Afghani culture has allowed for men to use “thename of honor,” and “religion and science” as excuses to bring discrimination upon their wivesand daughters, keeping them in an inferior state (Hosseini 253 and Wahyuni 15). For Mariam’scrime of killing her abusive husband, who has attempted to kill her multiple times, she is faced topay “the same price a male would pay for killing another man” (Marcinaik 13). She is punishedfor enduring a life of pain; for saving her own life. She is punished because her crime wastowards a man. Rasheed faced no charges, though he had continually abused his wives, oftenleaving them on the verge of death. However, once a crime has been committed against a man,especially by a women, the punishment intensifies. Afghanistan had decided to rid its societyfrom a woman breaking the status quo its laws had enacted. Womens’ jobs in society have beendegraded to nothing more than a child-bearer; a burden that with Mariam’s “lack of hierarchicalbirthright, puts her in a lower class” (Marcinaik 2). With few women able to break past the strictlaws, not one is able to survive long enough to keep Afghanistan on a progressive track.Afghanistan had built itself to be dominated by men, a class Hosseini continuously fights against,who step on the backs of a much lower class: women.
  • 7. Malhotra 7 Hosseini writes his story with the intent to change the society that will remain at astagnant place due to its inability to change; keeping women below a male-dominated surface.The progressive women are those who are executed for their abilities to surpass the barriers menand society have placed on them. These women are executed at the first opportunity, leavingAfghanistan forever in the dark, stagnant place it remains in, due to the inferiority of fifty percentof its able population. Hosseini saw the progressive side of Afghanistan, and then returned to asuppressed nation, and is therefore able to distinctly compare the two states of the country, andcraftA Thousand Splendid Suns to “correct the narrow view of Afghanistan” that the men and thegovernment have set in place (Sastra 3). With these perspectives taken into account, Hosseiniprovides “an authentic account of the political reality” which has engulfed the women ofAfghanistan into a state of depreciation which Afghani culture has begun to accept (Kanzemiyan57). By demonstrating the “impacts of the Afghan conflicts” between the genders, A ThousandSplendid Suns shows the result of oppressing abled women from helping a stagnant nation(Sastra 9). This book is a narrative written in fiction, with a nonfiction story. Hosseini builds thenarrative off of women’s roles as he has seen them to be in Afghanistan. Raised in America, hesees the injustice these women are faced with. The “necessity of having a son”, results in sex-selected abortions for daughters (Marciniak 5). Afghanistan, under the Taliban rule, keepswomen in an inferior state, by believing in outdated ideals. Rasheed practices such ideals bywanting nothing less than a son: “a girl” (Hosseini 87). He is also disgusted in Laila’s hope foran education, practicing a “negative opinion on educated women” as though they are trying toreject the rules, by becoming educated, and as a result, are disrupting a traditional way of life,that must be left unchallenged (Wahyuni 14). A traditional life in which only a husband can“keep [women] off the streets” (Hosseini 283). Women are able to feed themselves. Protect
  • 8. Malhotra 8themselves. Free themselves. Rasheed and the men in Afghanistan, however, have kept womenthinking they are not able to accomplish these tasks without the aid of a male. Hosseini showsthe potential bottled up within these women that Afghanistan has robbed by discriminating –keeping the country unable to develop and grow. A Thousand Splendid Sunsdemonstrates an Afghanistan that promotes the oppression ofhalf the abled population. With violent descriptions, vivid imagery and historical references,Hosseini addresses the blatant issues facing Afghanistan and urges changes to the traditionalpatriarchal thinking. Women’s reactions to being treated inferior, however, proves them to besuperior; proves them to be capable of withstanding the extreme trials of submission designed bymen. Even with Rasheed’s constant insults, threats and beatings, Laila and Mariam endure. Theycringe with the words and cry with the pain, yet, until they are faced with the test of love for oneanother, they stay strong in the face of abuse. With their silence, and ability to withstand theabuse, women prove the strength in the female gender. Rasheed demonstrates the power of hisfist throughout, but Laila and Mariam demonstrate the power of their silence, and their love.Hosseini builds such strong women, by emphasizing the discriminations they are forced to face.Though anyone is able to use violence to subdue others, few are able to give up their lives foranother. The burdens Mariam and Laila carry – in the face of the Afghani law and their husband– display the depth behind the moral and mental superiority of women and the shallow inferiorityof the abusive men – Hosseini’s moral of A Thousand Splendid Suns.