Laila's Struggles Under The Taliban Regime In The Novel A Thousand Splendid Suns By Khaled Hosseini
Afghanistan, a war-torn country, has been full of turmoil for more than forty years. Various groups fight for ownership of the land, producing an innumerable amount of casualties. In A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, Laila is an intelligent girl growing up in a Soviet, and later Taliban infested Afghanistan.
She lives a relatively stable home life, which is spearheaded by her academic and loving father Hakim, who emphasizes that Laila should receive an education. Unfortunately, both of her parents die from a stray missile, and her life is changed forever. Throughout Laila’s journey, she preserves a robust cultural character that takes root during her childhood. Laila’s identity is primarily formed through her connection to her homeland, educational upbringing, and treatment as a woman.
In particular, Laila’s homeland, Afghanistan, directly influences her identity. Laila moves away from her childhood town of Kabul to escape warfare and establish a new life with her husband Tariq and their children. Despite living a stable, calm life in the city of Murree, Pakistan, she decides to move back to Afghanistan because it has become safer. On the long bus ride to Kabul, Laila recalls a poem that Hakim recites to her during her childhood: “One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls. Laila settles back in her seat, blinking, the wetness from her eyes.
Kabul is waiting. Needing. This journey home is the right thing to do” (Hosseini 392). Laila is deeply connected to her hometown and country. Despite the terrors that she endures while living in Afghanistan, such as the death of her parents and forceful marriage to Rasheed, she is willing to go back. The beauty of her country indicated in the poem is enough for her to return home.
Afghanistan, especially the city of Kabul, is part of her identity – she cannot resist being pulled back to her origin. When Laila returns to Kabul, she helps to restore the insipid orphanage in which her daughter lives in before they left the country. Laila, her husband Tariq, and Zaman, the orphanage owner, renovate the entire home. Hosseini describes that the trio “repainted… repaired all the roof leaks, replaced the windows, carpet the rooms where the children sleep and play.
This past winter, Laila bought a few beds for the children’s sleeping quarters, pillows too, and proper wool blankets. She had cast-iron stoves installed for the winter” (411). Laila’s willingness to give back to her childhood community reflects her bond not only with Kabul but with the people and future generations inhabiting it. Overall, Laila’s intense attraction to her homeland shapes a significant portion of her identity: she is the living embodiment of Afghanistan pride and perseverance.
Additionally, Laila’s educational upbringing establishes a part of her identity. Laila’s scholarly father Hakim is the driving force of her desire and ability to acquire knowledge. Despite the cultural norm of uneducated women in Afghanistan, Laila receives schooling throughout her childhood. When attending school becomes too dangerous, Hakim homeschools Laila. Hakim is enthusiastic about Laila’s literacy; he assists her in solving homework problems every night and often gives her extra lessons. While talking to her friends about adulthood and marriage, Laila recalls something that her father expresses to her at a young age:
I know you’re still young, but I want you to understand and learn this now… Marriage can wait, education cannot. You’re a very, very bright girl. Truly, you are. You can be anything you want, Laila. I know this about you. And I also know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more. Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance. (Hosseini 114)
Laila’s passion for learning comes from her father, who emphasizes that her education, along with women’s education in general, is imperative for the future of Afghanistan. The cultural ideologies of Afghanistan often prohibit or discourage the process of learning among women, but Laila uses her culture as a catalyst for her passion for learning. Laila’s zeal for knowledge pushes her to be the awal numra, or top student in her school, for two years. In turn, Laila’s studies shape her identity as a sharp and observant woman.
As an adult, Laila hopes to pass on her learning to future generations of Afghani’s: she becomes a teacher at Zaman’s foster home. When Laila walks into her classroom, she is “swarmed… There are outstretched little hands and appeals for attention. Some of them call her Mother. Laila does not correct them” (Hosseini 412). Through her education, Laila affects the lives of many children by passing on her knowledge to them. Laila’s passion for learning allows her to give back to her childhood community through teaching. Overall, education plays a significant role in shaping Laila’s identity, through becoming a matriarchal intellectual figure and teaching future generations of children.
Furthermore, Laila’s treatment as a woman in Afghanistan builds a part of her identity. The Taliban’s extremist laws govern much of Laila’s life while she lives with her misogynistic husband, Rasheed. For instance, women are not allowed out in public unless a male relative accompanies them. When Laila’s daughter Aziza begins living in an orphanage, Laila makes it her mission to visit Aziza as frequently as possible – often by herself. During this time of poverty, Hosseini defines Laila’s struggles: “Laila’s life… revolved around finding ways to see Aziza. Half the time, she never made it to the orphanage… If she was lucky, she was given a tongue-lashing or a single kick to the rear… Other times, she met with assortments of wooden clubs, fresh tree branches, short whips, slaps, often fists” (320-321).
Even though Laila is beaten harshly by Taliban members, purely because of her gender, she continues to risk her life to see her daughter. Through the despotism of women, Laila learns perseverance, which becomes intrinsic in her identity. Laila continues to defy the Taliban; she is resolute in her efforts to see her daughter. After one exceptionally heinous beating, Hosseini describes her determination: “Laila took to wearing extra layers, even in the heat, two, three sweaters beneath the burqa, for paddings against the beatings.
But for Laila, the reward, if she made it past the Taliban, was worth it. She could spend as much time as she liked… with Aziza” (321). Laila’s willingness to withstand beatings and find ways around the Taliban allow her to develop mental strength and problem-solving skills. To Laila, being an oppressed woman is merely an obstacle in the way of visiting with her daughter. Positively, the Taliban’s fettering of women’s rights favors Laila to develop grit and tenacity, which in turn reside within her identity.
Overall, Laila’s homeland of Afghanistan, education as a child, and harsh treatment as a woman are irrefutable facets of her life that carefully construct her identity. Laila can connect with the future generations of Afghanistan through her teachings and love of her city. She also develops qualities that are necessary to survive in a ravaged country, such as tenacity and mental toughness. Laila’s inspiring story is one out of a legion of unique, real-life stories that develop in the Middle East each day.
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