A Thousand Splendid Suns: A Religio-Cultural Perspective Essay Example

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Women, Literature, Family, Afghanistan, Religion, Books, Patriarchy, Daughter

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2021/02/23

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Quite often the characteristic of barbarity is cultural rather than personal – a person’s culture sanctions their behavior and reprimands them for any other kind of expression in a particular situation. Other times, it is the exact opposite and a few times, it is a combination of both. The noble enterprise of Feminism and Women’s Studies is to find culprits and liberate victims – which is noble precisely because it is so difficult to accomplish. Khaled Hosseini’s novel A Thousand Splendid Suns perfectly showcases this difficulty. Hosseini characterized the book as a ‘mother-daughter’ story, but this paper will analyze the three important male characters – Rasheed, Tariq, and Jalil, in order to understand how this mother-daughter story is crafted and made possible precisely because it is set in a theocratic patriarchy – Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban.
The two protagonists – Mariam and Laila, create (perhaps strangely) a female dominated atmosphere, insomuch that their world, at first, revolved around their female relatives (her mother, for Mariam, and her female friends and Tariq for Laila). The variety and diversity of female lives changes when they are both thrust into the same harem of the Pashtun cobbler, Rasheed. This brings up an interesting point about ethnicity – both Mariam and Laila were of Tajik origin, while Rasheed was Pashtun. Both of these groups are Persian-speakers but have very different identities. Within the book, this can be seen through the fact that both the protagonists were children of affluent families (or at least affluent fathers), while the antagonist, Rasheed, was a Pashtun. The uniting factor between them was Islam, or, more specifically, an ‘Afghan’ Islam (Ruthven & Nanji 156-157).
Since the birth of Islam, the religion has provided a common link throughout much of central Asia in much the same way that Christianity provided a link in Europe (Ruthven & Nanji 20-23). At this point, the ethnicities of the two protagonists, the antagonist and Tariq come into play. Considering the clear divide between the male and female groups, one can argue that Hosseini was attempting to locate the masculine and the feminine divide within an ethnic space. The Tariq peoples were best known historically as the founders of the Lodi Dynasty in India and were seen as powerful rulers, while for most of their post-Islamic existence, regardless of their many renowned commanders and leaders, the very name ‘Pashtun’ was a pejorative (Romano, 28-63). In the midst of this gender divide – with the masculine being placed within the tribe which had a (perceived) inferior status and could only be ‘liberated’ by the intervention of a heathen power (the pejorative connotation of ‘Pashtun’ was fully removed only after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) and the feminine being placed in camp of the ‘glorious conquerors’ enriches the novel immensely in its literary depth and cultural significance.
In the midst of this ethnic divide, there are two characters which add an extra dimension to the argument – Tariq and Jalil. Tariq was, in every way, a ‘worthy’ suitor for Laila, but was a Pashtun, while Jalil, who according to Mariam’s side of the story, was a negligent and callous father and family man was a Tajik. On the surface, this would seem to destroy the idea that Hosseini wished to use ethnic division to enhance his story, but the fact that these are single examples stacked against historical evidence must be considered. When the question is considered in this way, it is clear that in placing the two characters in their ethnically opposed groups (within the frame of the novel) there is more to these characters than meets the eye.
Jalil had a powerful influence early in the book – it was through his personality that much of the plot was driven. Jalil was the ideal example of a person (or personality) who uses religion to justify and even further his own aims. He was a wealthy businessman who owned a cinema, but, at the same time, was a man who milked the patriarchal system in order to suit his own aims. With three wives and many children, Jalil is a callous family man, as was seen not only through his favoritism towards certain members of his family but also through his treatment of Mariam on her fifteenth birthday which led to her mother’s death and her marriage to Rasheed. Jalil was a weak character insomuch that he was ‘flat’ – he simply embodied the callousness of the patriarchy. But his ethnicity played an interesting role as well. Given his position as a Tajik, he is a member of the ‘glorious’ tribe and did not need to worry too much about his social position, in the sense of his ethnic origin. Clearly, this gave him an added social sanction or permission to behave the way he did. This was a more benign form of Afghan/Islamic patriarchy – the book contains many more horrible examples of how this very patriarchy, through its sanctioning of certain behaviors, creates terrible situations for the women of Afghanistan.
This moves the argument smoothly on to Rasheed. In an interview where Hosseini discussed his novel, he stated that did not intend to create Rasheed as an unforgivable villain, he wanted to show a multi-layered man who was admittedly cruel but also had a more humane side. By and large, it is hard to imagine Rasheed as anything more than a patriarchal drone who would rather beat his wives to death for displeasing him or not producing his much sought after son, than to see him as a victim of any sort, however, his love for his son is a dead give away. Considering Rasheed in totality paints a very interesting picture.
Rasheed was a Pashtun – a member of a tribe which was despised until the Soviet invasion. Added to this he was a cobbler, i.e., of a lower economic class and he was a man in an Islamic society and was thus expected not only to have several wives but also to produce sons to carry on his name. This would naturally create an extreme amount of social pressure on him to conform and perform as was expected of him. Although these facts cannot amount to an excuse for his monstrous treatment of Mariam and Laila, it does conform to Hosseini’s vision for Rasheed and in that way he is a very successful character. As for his ‘sins against women’, he paid the ultimate price for it – his life, and that creates adequate closure for the reader in this area of the story.
This only leaves one important male character – Tariq. Tariq was Laila’s best friend while growing up and, as the story progresses, he becomes her lover and eventually leaves her pregnant with a daughter – Aziza. Tariq, like Rasheed, was a Pashtun but, like Jalil, did not fit perfectly into the frame created for him by his ethnicity. He was Laila’s best friend and remained close to her throughout most of their lives (except, perhaps, for his ten year absence after the wars in Afghanistan broke out). The simple fact that they were good friends broke many norms in the highly traditional Islamic society in which they lived, and the fact that Laila had an illegitimate daughter by him would have meant that she would have been executed for adultery unless she married Rasheed and let him have her daughter. Tariq’s presence and absence in the narrative seemed to indicate the ebb and flow of ‘fundamentalist patriarchy’ – with his appearance came a ‘liberal’ ideal which was more gender-equal, and with his disappearance came a harsher, more ‘tribal’ form of patriarchy. His presence showed that it was perhaps not entirely Islam’s or Afghan culture’s fault for the terrible ways in which women in Afghanistan were treated.
It can be argued that the greater message of the book is to be wary of people and not simply cultures and religions when combating such social evils as sexism. Hosseini’s narrative style and technique masterfully created a rich story which permits various readings, and among these, reading the book through the lens of culture and religion has provided a very interesting result indeed.

Work Cited

“An Interview with Khaled Hosseini”. BookBrowse. Khaled Hosseini, n.d. Web. 25
April, 2015.
Romano, Amy. A Historical Atlas of Afghanistan. New York: The Rosen Publishing
Group, 2003. Print.
Ruthven, Malise. Historical Atlas of Islam. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 2004. Print.

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WePapers. (2021, February, 23) A Thousand Splendid Suns: A Religio-Cultural Perspective Essay Example. Retrieved June 14, 2021, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/a-thousand-splendid-suns-a-religio-cultural-perspective-essay-example/
"A Thousand Splendid Suns: A Religio-Cultural Perspective Essay Example." WePapers, 23 Feb. 2021, https://www.wepapers.com/samples/a-thousand-splendid-suns-a-religio-cultural-perspective-essay-example/. Accessed 14 June 2021.
WePapers. 2021. A Thousand Splendid Suns: A Religio-Cultural Perspective Essay Example., viewed June 14 2021, <https://www.wepapers.com/samples/a-thousand-splendid-suns-a-religio-cultural-perspective-essay-example/>
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"A Thousand Splendid Suns: A Religio-Cultural Perspective Essay Example." WePapers, Feb 23, 2021. Accessed June 14, 2021. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/a-thousand-splendid-suns-a-religio-cultural-perspective-essay-example/
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"A Thousand Splendid Suns: A Religio-Cultural Perspective Essay Example," Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com, 23-Feb-2021. [Online]. Available: https://www.wepapers.com/samples/a-thousand-splendid-suns-a-religio-cultural-perspective-essay-example/. [Accessed: 14-Jun-2021].
A Thousand Splendid Suns: A Religio-Cultural Perspective Essay Example. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/a-thousand-splendid-suns-a-religio-cultural-perspective-essay-example/. Published Feb 23, 2021. Accessed June 14, 2021.
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