Last Updated 24 Jan 2023

Empathy in A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

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On the surface, an individual does not let things show, but there are tremors in one’s life These tremors are hidden from everyone else, especially if the individual is an adult because they are not willing to embrace it and let it define their life. They want to define their life by the work that they do, they want to show that they are resilient and can fight through the toughest situations In the novel A Thousand Suns by Khaled Hosseini, the protagonist, Mariam, is seen transforming into a strong character from her previous naive Character. In the beginning of the novel, Mariam is naive and embraces the fake empathy given to her by people in her life, but as the story progresses, she realizes that she has been foolish the whole time and now realizes that all the empathy shown to her was fake. The empathy shown to her was merely a facade put on to fool her. Even though she later learns that she was given fake empathy, it was something that motivated her to keep going. She later meets Laila, an individual that shows her true empathy because they both struggle in the same situations, which motivates Mariam to go on with her life. An individual builds purpose and strength when they are shown empathy which helps them build resilience.

Empathy does not always have to be genuine in order to help build a resilient person with purpose and strength. In the beginning of the novel, Mariam is shown fake empathy from her father, Jalil, but she does not realize that Mariam lives with her mother, Nana, and their relationship is distant. Nana tries to protect Mariam from the harsh reality, but Mariam does not understand that, instead, she sees it as Nana emphasizing the fact that Mariam is a ”harami’. In contrast to that is Jalil, the parent that she loves, He is the parent that makes Mariam no longer feel like a “harami”, she feels legitimate and validated in Jalil‘s presence. Nana warns Mariam that he will not hold on as tight as she thinks, but, “She believed that she would always land safely into her father’s clean, well-manicured hands (pg. 21)“. This quote has hand imagery in it, Jalil’s‘ hands are described as being clean and well-manicured, Nana is correct about what she says about Jalil, he will let Mariam slip away because he does not want to ruin his clean, well- manicured hands and make them dirty, he wants them to remain clean. Jalil also brings gifts for Mariam to cover up the fact that he is a bad father figure, not caring for his child properly. On this particular trip, Jalil brought Mariam a necklace for her to wear, and he tells her that she “look[s] like a queen (pg. 24)” when she puts on the necklace. Nana knows better, she knows that it is made out of coins, “They melt the coins people throw at them and make jewelry (pg 24).” People throw coins when they want to get rid of something that is unwanted, and Jalil giving that necklace made of coins to Mariam further emphasizes that she is not wanted in Jalil’s life.

Even though the empathy Mariam receives is not genuine, it helps her become a resilient individual to the tough situations that she has to face. When empathy is no longer given, it makes it difficult for an individual to remain resilient. Shortly after Nana dies, Jalil takes in Mariam to live with him for a few days, but then finds her a suitor named Rasheed to get married off to. When his wives discuss with Mariam about this marriage, she is clearly against it, saying that she does not want to get married to an old man, but when she looks for reassurance from Jalil, all she gets is, “Goddamn it Mariam, don’t do this to me (pg. 49).” This quote shows that now, Jalil has lost all his empathy for Mariam because of the image he needs to maintain. He wants to maintain his image of an affluent man who does not have any scandals associated to him. Keeping Mariam would taint his image, and he does not want that to happen, so he loses his empathy for her. After getting married off to Rasheed, she is shown empathy at the beginning of their marriage He takes her places to go sightseeing, and for a period of time, Mariam feels like she could possibly survive the marriage that she was forced into. She soon gets pregnant, and that brings happiness into both Mariam and Rasheed‘s lives, Rasheed has been wanting a child ever since his son drowned, so it gives him the chance of having another son, and for Mariam, the kid brings hope that her life could be better. Unfortunately, this all fades away once Mariam suffers from the miscarriage at the bath house. Rasheed starts isolating himself from Mariam, and lashes out at her every time she tries to speak to him, “But after four years of marriage, Mariam saw clearly how much a woman could tolerate when she was afraid (pg. 98)." Now, she has lost the empathy she used to receive, now, she lives in fear. She was not able to provide Rasheed with a baby boy, and now she is having to suffer because of that. Rasheed continues becoming more violent and his mood more volatile by the day, Mariam lives in fear of her own life, it becomes difficult for her to remain resilient. When Rasheed was eating dinner, he wanted to compare what his dinner felt like eating, so he left, “Mariam to spit out pebbles, blood, and the fragments of two broken molars (pg. 104).”

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The pebbles used to have a positive connotation attached to them, Mariam associated the pebbles with her siblings, but now, the pebbles are a symbol of loss literally and figuratively, She broke her molar teeth, and she also lost her siblings and the family that she used to have. Because Mariam is not shown any empathy by Rasheed, her motivation to stay resilient starts slipping away. When genuine empathy is shown to an individual, they are motivated to stay resilient and to build purpose and strength. When Laila’s parents die because of a bomb, Rasheed takes her in and cares for her until she heals. Once she heals, Laila is forced into marrying Rasheed because she has nowhere else to go. Initially, Mariam feels betrayed by Laila’s presence because she takes over Mariam’s spot in the household, but they soon create an alliance between each other and gain a bond because they both suffer from the same situation that they do not want to be in. When Rasheed goes to beat up Mariam, Laila stands up for and tells Rasheed, “Stop it, has (pgt 241)!” This is the first time it is seen in the novel that Laila stands up for Mariam, where their alliance is truly proven, it shows the power of a female-female relationship. Laila is the hope that Mariam was asking for in her life, and now she is here to help her endure this struggle, Laila’s daughter, Aziza, also motivates Mariam to remain resilient so she could help Laila and her children get away from the terrible situation that they are currently facing. They attempt to run away, and when they go to run away, they know that “there was no going back (pg, 258)." Mariam knows that they have put themselves into an extremely risky situation, but at the same time, goes along with it because she wants Laila and her children to have a more promising future, they are giving the strength and purpose that Mariam needs.

This is also the reason why Mariam had the power to kill Rasheed with “everything she had (pg 349).” Rasheed was a heavy burden on both Mariam and Laila, and she did not want Laila to deal with him any longer because she feared that Rasheed would kill her with the gun he stored in his drawer. She knew that by killing Rasheed, she would give Laila and her children the freedom that they need to go and live a prosperous life. The genuine empathy Mariam received from Laila motivated her to stay resilient and helped her gain purpose and strength in life. In conclusion, an individual builds purpose and strength in their life when they receive empathy that shapes them to become resilient Throughout the novel, Mariam suffered lots of tremors in her life, but was able to face them all with the empathy she received. In the situations with Jalil and Rasheed, the empathy was not genuine, but it still kept her going When she lost the empathy from Rasheed, Mariam’s motivation to remain resilient was starting to slip away until Laila came along and taught her to keep going The empathy Mariam received throughout the novel helped her gain purpose and strength in her life, as well as shape into a resilient individual.

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