The oppression of women is
apparent in the Afghanistan society through the extremist rules and regulations
set out in society for woman to remain in order. From the very first
introduction of Mariam in the novel, she recalls her Nana being named a ‘harami’
or bastard by her superior male, Jalil, for simply breaking piece of a tea set.
It is immediately made apparent by Hosseini through this how women are treated
not only with an unjust disrespect, but shamed for being inferior to their male
counterparts. This sets a precedent for the theme of shame throughout A
Thousand Splendid Suns, with the use of ‘harami’ being less of a cast off
derogatory comment but a standpoint for how women are viewed in the eye of
Afghani society, low status and undeserving of high levels respect.
Public expectations of
female propriety are prevalent in the expectations of women within these novels.
This is clear when it is stated “they want us to operate in
burqa,” this is a clear condemnation of Afghanistan’s extreme social
regulations by Hosseini. Another example
of the unjust nature of the expectation of women in society is Jalil’s many legitimate
wives. These wives reinforce the obscene cultural expectations and how the
women are expected to be comfortable ‘sharing’ a male partner with other women.
Due to their lower position in the patriarchy, women are not given a voice in
society, yet women comply with these expectations and highlight the nature of
an anti-feminist character in the novel.
The issue of relationship
abuse is apparent throughout the both novels. Whereas Rasheed explicit physical
dominance compared to subtle mental domination of Angel. Rasheed physically
abuses Mariam, in the most horrific of ways, such as when he uses domestic
violence towards Mariam, making her chew pebbles for simply boiling rice too
long. This is significant when he uses the imperative command ‘Put. These. In
your mouth.’ He also puts a complete abusive hold over Mariam when she wants to
escape Rasheed, when he says “You try this again and I will find you…And,
when I do, there isn’t a court in this godforsaken country that will hold me
accountable for what I will do.” It could be argued that Angel also
abuses Tess without even realising it, through being unrealistic in his
expectations of Tess and forever trying to maintain an idealized ‘child of
nature’ version of Tess and does not give her respect of discovering who she
really is, despite her attempts to come clean. No overt domination yet
continuing expectations of Tess that is established by his status and Christian
values established in his society.
the overwhelming presentation of male dominance in both novels, both Hardy and
Hosseini also offer moments of female empowerment at the very end of the texts.
first time any female empowerment comes into a Thousand Splendid Suns is when
the unlikely friendship of Laila and Mariam develops. Both women were unable to
settle their differences throughout the novel, yet there is a key turning point
for the pair, as although Rasheed’s dominance over the woman was intended by
him to pin the ladies against each other, the two women actually came together
and formed a friendship. Hosseini presents the power of the feminine likeness
that males in this novel did not possess. Through the exchange of peace
offerings, Laila and Mariam are able to come to a new understanding. Mariam’s
gift of girl clothes shows Laila that she no longer resents Laila and Aziza’s
presence. Laila returns the favour by suggesting they ‘drink chai on the porch’.
These exchanges are symbols for the change in their relationship. Their
alienation from Rasheed no longer pits them against each other but unites them.
They seal their friendship when the two ‘sinners have us a cup of chai in the
yard’. They put this friendship to the test when they unite to try and escape
Rasheed’s dominance. When this fails, Mariam and Laila successfully murder
Rasheed by hitting him with a shovel. This finalises the juxtaposition between
the beginning of the novel and the female empowerment present at the end. It is
proof of the women coming together to stand up to violence and reject the
domination of their abusive male.
final theme of female empowerment is present in Tess of D’Urbervilles. In the
beginning of the novel, Tess could be considered noble to take on the ‘adult
role’ at the fault of her father or superior male, when he gets too drunk to go
to work. The dispossession of country people was a common occurrence and forced
young women like Tess into work. Additionally, Tess fails to react to her
mother’s imposition that she must marry Alec even though he raped her. Here,
she has stood up for her own morals and self-beliefs by refusing to conform to
the social idealisations of the Victorian society. Finally, at the very end of
the novel, like Laila and Mariam, Tess retaliates to her ongoing oppression and
abuse by her superior male by stabbing Alec in the chest. This is the ultimate
moment of female empowerment within the novel and is a true representation of
how relentless abuse can lead to female empowerment. Across
these two endings, the accepted pattern of submissive women giving in to
dominant men is interrupted, and Tess’s act in the eyes of Hardy is heroic.