Initially, their suffering increases because their anger at being oppressed and tortured is deflected towards the wrong people, people who actually care for them. Through their difficult journeys, their eyes are opened up to the power and beauty of a loving relationship. The loss or gain of such a relationship is the defining factor of whether or not each character finds peace and self-worth. The women in both novels transition from a state of being hopeful to complete desolation due to the oppression in their lives.
Initially, Mariam from A Thousand Splendid Suns expresses much hope about attaining a bright future. She wants to pursue an education as she says, "I mean a real school…like in a classroom, like my father's other kids" (Hosseini, 17). Mariam firmly believes that she can shed her shameful status of a bastard's child, and as she gets older, she takes strides to make this vision into a reality. Moreover, Mariam is constantly inundated with her mother's pessimistic ideals about life, but she believes that "You're [Mother] are afraid that I might find the happiness you never had.
And you don't want me to be happy. You don't want a good life for me" (Hosseini, 28). As a result, at first, Mariam is a strong figure with a lively spirit who is able to combat much negativity in her life and continue to dream and hope of a better future. Perhaps, her naivety fosters these hopes and dreams as well. Later, Mariam's husband, Rasheed successfully crushes her strong spirit. During one of his fierce outbursts, "he shoved two fingers into her mouth and pried it open, then forced the cold pebbles into it…but he kept pushing the pebbles in, his upper lip curled into a sneer" (Hosseini, 104).
Mariam is tortured psychologically, physically and her lively spirit is broken. She completely isolates herself from the outside world, and quietly suffers inside her house as "…Mariam was afraid" (Hosseini, 98). She is passive and compliant in the abusive relationship because she abandons all hope, and tries 1 to endure everything that falls upon her. Oppression crushes Mariam's inner strength and she becomes a walking dead person, confined to her own home. Furthermore, Zunaira from The Swallows of Kabul undergoes a similar transition from a state of hopefulness to desolation.
At the beginning, Zunaira is a hopeful person. Her husband, Mohsen, says, "Her zeal was unmatched, save by the praises heaped upon her. She was a brilliant girl and her beauty lifted every heart" (Khadra, 73). She is extremely passionate about empowering the women in Afghanistan, that she even pursues a career as a magistrate to set an example to rest of her countrymen. Zunaira embodies hope, and positive change in a country devastated by war. Like Mariam, Zunaira's hopeful spirit sets her up on a high pedestal to fall from. Then, Zunaira is oppressed by the Taliban.
She is writhing with anger and hatred when she says, "…the most detestable fact of [my] existence, to the constraint with anger and hatred that even in [my] dreams [I] refuse to accept: the forfeiture of [my] rights" (Khadra, 99). Anger and hatred threatens to rip Zunaira apart because she feels that the Taliban have stripped her off her dignity and humiliated her beyond endurance. Pride is important to Zunaira. Thus, she struggles to control her anger in public when she views the bitter state of her country, how the Taliban have destroyed her pride, hopes and dreams.
Unlike Mariam, Zunaira is defiant and angry. Zunaira actually attains her goal of becoming a magistrate, and thus, she experiences a greater sensation of loss. Mariam and Zunaira combat the oppression in different ways but they suffer the same pain and isolation. Oppression induces a negative change in both characters. In addition, the women have coping mechanisms to deal with the sorrow in their lives. Their ability to cope is affected by family members. Mariam remembers her mother's story, "where each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the World.
That all the sighs drifted up in the sky, gathered in the clouds, and then broke into tiny pieces…" (Hosseini, 91). Mariam is submissive in her abusive relationship because her mother has taught her by example, that Afghani women solely have to endure the pain and suffering in their lives. She makes no attempts to change her situation in her marriage because she lives by her mother's teachings. Perhaps, if Mariam were to stand up for herself or stir up chaos during one of Rasheed's beatings, Rasheed would not turn to violence against her so easily.
Also, Mariam could have searched for alternatives to escape Rasheed before the Taliban implemented the harsh laws. Over the years, Mariam becomes increasingly helpless and miserable under Rasheed's rule, as she follows the model of her mother's teachings. Also, she deflects her anger and sorrow 2 towards the wrong people, people who actually care for her. Laila, Rasheed's younger wife tries to extend a friendship towards Mariam multiple times, but Mariam pushes Laila away. She screams at Laila, "…I have no use for your company…You will leave me be and I will return the favour.
That's how we will get on. Those are the rules" (Hosseini, 226). As Mariam pushes Laila farther away, she only becomes a greater target of Rasheed's abuse because Rasheed tends to beat Mariam when he is angry with Laila. During a beating, Rasheed "held a belt in his hand…" and Mariam becomes absolutely petrified, but Laila tries to stand up for Mariam. United, Mariam and Laila are able to stand up to Rasheed and reduce the frequency and severity of Rasheed's beatings. By rebuffing Laila, Mariam only increases her own pain and suffering.
The character's coping mechanisms seem to only destroy any remaining strands of courage and hope within them. Similarly, in The Swallows of Kabul, Zunaira tries to find a way to cope with the oppression in her life. At the beginning, she tries to forget her own pain and suffering to be strong for her husband. Mohsen, her husband, insists on taking a stroll in the streets of Kabul, and Zunaira refuses to go because she does not want to wear the Burqa. To Zunaira, the Burqa epitomizes the mistreatment and oppression of women in Afghanistan. In the end, Zunaira agrees to go with Mohsen when she says, "Let's go out.
I'd rather run a thousand risks than to see you so demoralized" (Khadra, 79). Zunaira sacrifices some of her core values to make Mohsen happy, who is her only support system in this World. Though she does not want to lose Mohsen, her ability to cope with the oppression is hindered when she views firsthand the Taliban's brutality. Similarly, Zunaira's ability to cope with oppression is negatively impacted by the actions of her family members. Both women's hopes are crushed, but, Mariam becomes more compliant while a fire is ignited within Zunaira, which threatens to rip her apart.
Also, Zunaira shuns her loved one out of her life. When Zunaira refuses to talk to Mohsen and remove her Burqa after the stroll in Kabul, he recounts, "her anger is so intense that her veil trembles before her agitated breathing and she says, 'I don't ever want to see you again, Mohsen Ramat'" (Khadra, 129). At first, Zunaira uses her husband to cope, but later, she targets her fury towards him because she wants him to experience her great feeling of loss. Mohsen is a man, and Zunaira believes that a man will never allow a woman to attain her freedom.
Like Mariam, she ends up deteriorating her life further because Mohsen accidentally dies during one of their fights. Thus, Zunaira loses another member of her family to the Taliban. Zunaira is angry, but her actions cause her loved ones to 3 suffer too, unlike Mariam who bottles up her fury and grieves alone. In the end, Mariam and Zunaira's coping mechanisms only accelerate their feelings of pain and isolation. Finally, the women in both novels undergo a period of self-realization by losing or gaining a loving relationship. Mariam is able to acquire a new found sense of inner strength.
Laila and Mariam forge a special sisterly bond that Mariam can turn to for support and strength. Mariam says, "But, perhaps there were kinder years waiting still. A new life, a life which she would find the blessings that Nana had said a harami like her would never see" (Hosseini, 256). Her sisterly bond induces a positive change in Mariam as she starts to hope again. Mariam's spirit is rejuvenated, and she finds a newly acquired strength to defeat her oppressor, Rasheed. She frees herself off her primary oppressor for she finds the courage to kill Rasheed. She finds a state of inner peace at last.
Also, Mariam finds a new purpose in life. Before Mariam is to be executed, she thinks, "A Weed. And yet she was leaving the World as a woman who had loved and been loved back…a person of consequence at last. No. It was not so bad…that she should die this way" (Hosseini, 370). Mariam is resented by her mother, father and husband, but her relationship with Laila and Aziza, Laila's daughter, redefine her outlook on life. Their love fills a hollow spot within Mariam, and it lessens the pain of living under oppression for decades. As Mariam has loved, she is finally able to shed her status of a arami and gain a new sense of selfworth. She sees the beauty in a loving relationship, and she finally does find peace and selfworth in her life. In The Swallows of Kabul, Zunaira makes an important self-discovery as well. By severing her ties to Mohsen, she attains a form of inner strength. When the Jailer, Atiq, tries to convince her to run away from the jail, she says, "I can't wait to get out of here, but not in the way you propose" (Khadra, 164). She accepts her fate and is prepared to die. With Mohsen's accidental death, Zunaira severs all ties to the physical world.
She rids herself of all duties and obligations and deserts all of her hopes and dreams. She feels like a free spirit, symbolized by the removal of her Burqa. Her lightness renews her inner strength and now, she feels she can overcome any obstacle in her path, even dying. Though Zunaira attains a sense of inner peace by severing ties to loved ones, Mariam achieves this by finding the beauty in a loving relationship. Like Mariam, Zunaira is willing to die because their newly gained inner strength gives them the power to vanquish all obstacles in their path. Also, her loss of a loving relationship changes her perspective on life.
She says to the Jailer, "We've already been killed, all of us, it happened so 4 long ago, we've forgotten it" (Khadra, 164). Zunaira realizes that she has lost everything to the Taliban, her family, her dignity, her hopes and dreams. When she sees that she has nothing worth living for anymore, she feels there is nothing more she can lose in this World, and thus, she thinks about life differently. The author does not elaborate about Zunaira's life after she is freed from the jail, but probably she dies in the near future because she does not have a home to return to.
Similarly, Mariam and Zunaira are able to see the power and beauty of a loving relationship. Zunaira leaves behind her pride, and need to feel empowered while Mariam actually gains a new sense of self-worth. For Zunaira, leaving behind all the things attached to her relationship with Mohsen gives her peace. So, each character takes different routes to find peace and self-worth. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra are both set in war-torn Afghanistan. The women are oppressed by their husbands and society.
Then, the coping mechanisms they utilize only increase their pain and suffering. Finally, Mariam and Zunaira make an important self-discovery where they either gain or lose the power and beauty of a loving relationship to find peace and self-worth. Overall, Mariam and Zunaira seem to reverse their roles from the beginning to the end. Mariam is passive at first, but she becomes quite aggressive at the end. While, Zunaira follows the opposite path to achieve inner peace. Millions of women are oppressed around the World, and it seems that love is the critical factor to breaking the cycle of oppression.