Part 1: Mariam
Mariam seems to be misguided due to her complicated upbringing. The combination of a frequently absent father, and an emotionally damaged mother leaves her with little guidance or love throughout her childhood. Mariam physically describes herself to have dark hair and skin, with a “long face,” which is an insecurity of hers. Mariam’s physical and emotional anxiety likely originates from her mother, Nana, who constantly brings her down. Nana once states that schooling a girl like Mariam would be useless, and she constantly reminds Mariam that she will not be going anywhere with life due to the fact that she is female. Nana frequently refers to Mariam as a “harami”, which Mariam learns with age is an “unwanted thing,” and “that she, Mariam was an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home acceptance.” (pg. 4) Rather than rejecting her mother’s negative ideas, Mariam simply takes everything in like a sponge, and keeps it with her for the rest of her life. Nana’s death confirms to Mariam how lost she really is, and she instantly blames the occurrence on herself. When Jalil and his wives refuse to take Mariam in, she loses any hope that her father loves or respects her. She is abandoned and set up with an abusive suitor, Rasheed, who gradually offers her little to no freedom, love, or appreciation. When Mariam becomes pregnant, she starts to show more positive traits, as she feels as if being a mother will bring happiness into her life. Her dreams are shattered, however, when she has a miscarriage. Mariam labels the incident as an “undeserved blessing.” “Treacherous daughters did not deserve to be mothers and this was just punishment.” (pg. 93) This quote exemplifies the stress that still plagues Mariam, and that the containment of her new life has not given her an opportunity to grow away the grief and guilt she faces. After four years of marriage, Mariam officially becomes afraid of Rasheed, and does not make attempts to stand up to him. Part one is concluded with Rasheed’s harsh comparison of pebbles to her cooking, as he forces her to literally chew rocks and break two molars. With this, it is implied that Mariam is a broken soul.
Part 3: Rasheed
Rasheed is considered the antagonist of A Thousand Splendid Suns, and a stereotypical Muslim man. Rasheed is a very troubled individual whom we know has past losses that may account for much of his anger. He is a widowed shoemaker whose first wife and son died many years before his marriage with Mariam. This has left him bitter and lonely by the time Mariam comes into his life. It seems Rasheed is endlessly motivated to replace his dead son, yet his wives are unable to impress him. Rasheed’s cruel manipulative ways are developed especially by his hypocrisies for his observance for Islam. He insists the women in his household wear burqas when in public, yet he does not participate in Ramadan. Rasheed has a pattern in which he tricks people in order to fulfill his own personal desires. Similarly to how he respected Mariam in their early days of marriage, Rasheed makes himself out to be a kind and gentle man in order to win over Laila. This changes with time, however. Rasheed seems to act out on his wives due to the fact that he is aware of his own faults, and seems almost vulnerable when he finds out that Mariam and Laila have become close. He beats and verbally abuses Mariam and Laila, and does not reveal any good-natured traits until the birth of Zalmai, his child with Laila. Zalmai seems make Rasheed happy because he seems to fill the hole of grief that has been afflicting Rasheed for years.
Part 4: Tariq
Tariq may not be a main character, but his impact in Laila’s life is extremely significant. Laila and Tariq essentially grew up together as dear friends, and from the start Tariq was brave and protective over Laila. Kind parents raised Tariq, which may be a reason why he himself is caring and sensitive. As teenagers, Laila and Tariq become lovers, and Tariq is upfront and confident about his feelings for Laila. This shows that he is a person that is not reluctant to chase after what he wants in life. When Tariq is forced to flee to Pakistan due to his unhealthy father, Tariq ends up in prison. Despite the adversities in his journey, he ends up returning to Laila, thus proving his bravery and devotion to her. Tariq cares for others, and is very private about his own misfortunes. When he describes his experiences in Pakistan, he expresses sadness when he talks about the children who died before his eyes. Also, he mentions little about his days in prison, as if it was an experience that has effected him deeply on an emotional level. Tariq has an easygoing and kind personality, which is accentuated by his love for his daughter Aziza, and acceptance and care for Zalmai as if he were his own son.