Oppression and Violence: Triumph in A Thousand Splendid Suns
Through many forms of historical fiction, structural oppression leads to the adoption of violence in one’s life. Allowing both the influence of loss and struggle to present itself in times of anguish. Certainly, ending with the ability to overcome obstacles, despite all that one must face. This is truly the case with the character of Laila in Khalid Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. Laila faces consistent oppression as a vulnerable young girl during times of uncertainty, which causes her to fall victim to ill-treatment. Moreover, the integration of harm in her life allows the acceptance and regular usage of violence. Ultimately, Laila’s ability to prevail despite the barriers she has come to face, reveals that she is still able to overcome challenges no matter the circumstances. Therefore, in Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, Laila’s encounters with systematic oppression, leads to the normalization of violence throughout her life and results in the ability to triumph hardships while at a disadvantage.
Undoubtedly, the regular promotion of oppression causes Laila to face clear weaknesses throughout development, even as an innocent young girl. Initially, Laila is exposed to toxic systematic oppression as a child in a male dominated society through her father’s teachings. Early on, Babi describes to Laila the deeply rooted troubles women face in Afghanistan by saying, “He meant those regions where men who lived by ancient tribal laws have rebelled against the communists and their decrees to liberate women, to abolish forced marriage, to raise the minimum marriage age to sixteen for girls. There, men saw it as an insult to their centuries-old tradition” (Hosseini 76). Babi’s depiction of men in rural Afghanistan spreading oppressive ideology reveals the sexist actions that they continue to reinforce, as evident through the multiple examples and the offense these men take to being stopped. Not only is one able to see the clear disregard these oppressors have towards women, but also how normal these actions have become in their lives. As these men see the communists preventing their ill treatment of women as “an insult to their tradition” and are the current leaders in their societies, a system is being built which continues to bring women down. Allowing Laila to understand at such a young age the systematic disadvantage she confronts throughout her development as a character within the novel. Additionally, Laila is forcefully married to Rasheed as there was no other option for her at the time. As the novel continues, Rasheed rescues Laila revealing his harmful intentions when speaking to Mariam and expresses, “She can leave. I won’t stand in her way. But I suspect she won’t get far. No food, no water, not a rupiah in her pockets, bullets flying everywhere. How many days do you suppose she’ll last before she’s abducted, raped or tossed into some roadside ditch with her throat slit?” (115). These few lines come to demonstrate the situation Laila is trapped within from the state of Afghanistan at this time and Rasheed’s oppressive demeanor. In their tense interaction, Rasheed takes advantage of Laila, thereby forcing her into marriage. As she has lost her parents, their country at the time provides no other hope and was not in a position to fight back, Laila faces oppression due to the planned misery of her own husband. Coming to prove, the systematic nature of oppression at the time causes endless defeats to Laila by the disadvantage she begins with and her forceful marriage to Rasheed.
Subsequently, the systematic oppression Laila faces earlier on, leads to an acceptance of violence multiple times in her life. At first, Laila suffers extreme abuse from Rasheed as his actions seem normal in their marriage. As she undergoes shocking torture after disobeying her husband, the narrator notes, “At one point, Laila ducked and manages to land a punch across his ear, which made him spit a curse and pursue her even more relentlessly. He caught her, threw her up against the wall, struck her with the belt again and again, the buckle slamming against her chest, her shoulder, her raised arms, her fingers, drawing blood wherever it struck” (181). The narrator's detailed portrayal of Rasheed’s horrific abuse towards Laila demonstrates the normalization of violence in their lives, through the author’s specific word choice and connection to her getting “struck again and again.” The fact that Rasheed is able to follow through with such a damaging course of actions emphasizes his belief that this violence is accepted and also meaningful. Hence, Laila continues to face his abuse and falls victim to the normalization of violence within her own home, appearing as there is no more hope. Correspondingly, Mariam takes advantage of her exposure to violence by saving Laila and slaying Rasheed. As their violent husband intends to end Laila’s life, Mariam brings an end to their misery and the narrator describes, “Laila’s face was turning blue now, and her eyes had rolled back. Mariam saw that she was no longer struggling. He’s going to kill her, she thought.… He looked up. Mariam swung. She hit him across the temple. The blow knocked him off Laila'' (182). Mariam’s actions driven by violence bring attention to the normality and harmful nature of their family dynamic with Rasheed. During this intense battle like scenario, she sees Rasheed as a threat rather than a husband, leading her to murder him without any hesitation to save them both from their marriages and torture. Furthermore, her clear lack of doubt proves how Laila and Mariam must act in such an oppressive situation with violence right at their disposal, allowing the author to convey the importance behind their extensive struggles. Hence, demonstrating how the normalization of violence in Laila’s life has an effect on both her physical abuse and Rasheed’s beneficial death.
Conclusively, an approval of violence results in Laila’s ability to overcome any barriers despite all that she has come to face. Moreover, Laila is able to move on from the past successfully and live on with Tariq. Later on in the novel as both lovers have become married with their two children, Laila continues to reminisce who she has become and the narrator describes, “Sometimes on these outings, when they pass by a store window, Laila catches their reflections in it. Man, wife, daughter, son. To strangers, she knows, they must appear like the most ordinary of families, free of secrets, lies and regrets” (198). At this moment of realization, Laila understands how far she has come in her life and displays a meaningful contrast to how she was living prior to her marriage with Tariq. Despite the structural oppression and violence Laila had been exposed to, her new life represents the significance of being able to prevail no matter what came about in the past. Thus, developing her into someone capable of acting in such a way while at an extensive disadvantage. Additionally, rather than fearing her home of Kabul, she sees her return as an opportunity to persevere once more. The mother of two decides on her return to their true home through the narration:
But Laila has decided that she will not be crippled by resentment. Mariam wouldn’t want it that way. What’s the sense? She would say with a smile both innocent and wise. What good is it, Laila jo? And so, Laila has resigned herself to moving on. For her own sake, for Tariq’s, for her children’s. And for Mariam, who still visits Laila in her dreams, who is never more than a breath or two below her consciousness. Because in the end she knows that’s all she can do. That and hope. (215)
Laila’s sentimental motivation from the late Mariam guides her desire to do “that and hope”, providing insight on whom she has become despite all she has been through. In fact, her choice to return to Kabul shows the true nature of her character, and no matter what was going on in the past she is now still willing to persevere. Consequently, ending in Laila’s successful conquering of her old self and fears of returning home. Therefore, demonstrating Laila's fortunate relationship with Tariq alongside personal growth in the face of both oppression and violence.
Throughout Khalid Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, the character of Laila experiences standard torments, leading to necessary violence and ending with the rise of who she has now become. Laila faces oppression within the fictional story from both society and an assertive marriage, due to their orderly nature. Leading to severe harm, which Laila confronts herself through physical abuse and the acceptance of murder. Resulting in the eventual prevalence of Laila alongside her family and newfound identity. Ultimately proving despite the oppression and violence one faces within their life along troubling development, they are still able to triumph many obstacles from the past. Thus, providing the teaching that no matter what one may face, the perseverance and growth through misfortune will assist in making one thrive.
Hosseini, Khaled. A Thousand Splendid Suns. New York, Riverhead Books, 2007.