Essay: A Thousand Splendid Suns and A Streetcar Named Desire

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” are two texts written in different countries: Afghanistan and America which causes their context to be different due to politics and religion but there are similarities such as the roles, expectations and struggles that the women within these societies have. The main female characters in “A Streetcar Named Desire” are called Stella and Blanche whereas the main female characters in “A Thousand Splendid Suns” are called Mariam and Laila. Stella and Mariam have similar expectations such as the providing for their husbands, producing children and being subjected to domestic violence. Mariam manages to relieve some of her pain through the arrival of Laila’s child but one can say she is not completely painless until her death. Stella never manages to escape or relieve any of her pain as she stays with her husband, Stanley and her sister ends up in a mental asylum. Laila and Blanche are two women which their societies may class as fallen women; Laila has a child out of wedlock and due to deaths in the family as well as the suicide of her husband Blanche turns into a highly sexualized woman who relies on alcohol. Laila struggles throughout her life with the loss of her family members, her abusive marriage and the war raging in Afghanistan but she escapes this pain and ends up with her first love. Blanche does not recover; she is sent to a mental asylum therefore one can say that she is truly one of the only women within the two novels that is in a constant state of despair and as she is a single woman, her struggles as well as expectations differ from the other female characters.

In both texts, one can notice that certain women such as Mariam and Stella have roles; one of these roles is to become a housewife and provide for their husbands and family. Mariam is forced to marry Rasheed when Nana commits suicide; the Taliban encourage girls under the age of 16 to enter marriage especially when they have no one to provide for them and Amnesty International reported that 80 percent of Afghan marriages were by force. Mariam’s role of a housewife develops upon marrying him as Rasheed expects her to cook and clean for her as these are the traditional roles of a wife in Afghanistan due to the Taliban regime not allowing them to go out to have an education and get a job. Mariam always ‘does as she is told’ which suggests that she not in control of herself and instead Rasheed is in control of her. On the other hand, when she does not do what is expected of her such as cooking a tasty meal, Rasheed forces her to chew rocks until her teeth bleed. The imagery provided in the moment she is forced to do this, is shocking and one can presume that even the strongest of women would struggle with the pain.

Similarly, Stella is pressurised to act like a perfect housewife by Stanley; he expects her too cook. One night, he states ‘How about my supper, huh? I’m not going to no Galatoires’ for supper!’; he is demanding his supper from Stella the minute he has walked through the door. She seems to be unsurprised by his remark which indicates that she receives these comments from him often and it seems as if it would never occur to him that he can make his own food because his beliefs are that the kitchen is the woman’s work place. One can compare this with the way in which Rasheed treats both Laila and Mariam in respect to the expectations of completing the household chores; he does not want to lift a finger much like Stanley.

One can see that a comparison between the two texts is the recurring theme of domestic violence. In ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, ‘Rasheed was the most disappointing and abusive person in Mariam’s life, as his abuse was sexual, mental and definitely physical’. It is clear to see when Mariam becomes pregnant, has a miscarriage and he goes into a violent fit of rage upon hearing about it. He goes into a fit of rage as he expects Mariam to give him children as he is her wife and that is one of the roles of the wife in the Islamic culture in Afghanistan. Like many women in abusive relationships, she questions and blames herself for the abuse; ‘Had she ever been a deceitful wife? she asked herself. A complacent wife? A dishonorable woman? Discreditable? Vulgar? What harmful thing had she willfully done to this man to warrant his malice, his continual assaults, the relish with which he tormented her?’. The repetition of the questions throughout her thought process shows that she is searching for a reason that would allow Rasheed to beat her but the reader can see that there is never a valid reason to beat a young and vulnerable woman. If it weren’t for her inner strength being ‘as hard and unyielding as a block of limestone’ she would probably have died a lot sooner than she did.

Furthermore, one can see that Rasheed causes Laila suffering and she struggles through their relationship so that her baby is safe; in a sense, she puts her child before herself. He is very controlling as he wishes her to wear a burka to cover herself from other men and he openly mocks other ‘afghan men who did not mind that their wives walked among strangers with makeup on their faces and nothing on their heads’. Laila does stand up to him and she can challenge him because she is an intellectual but he becomes violent; he ‘shoved’ the ‘barrel’ of a gun in into her ‘mouth’. Hosseini is portraying the message that women cannot compete with a man’s physical power therefore it is a weapon that they will use in volatile situations with women as they will come out the victor.

Comparably, in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ one can see that if Stella fails to do the tasks that she is expected to do or if she is ordered to do something and does not then Stanley becomes violent. Susan Koprince stated that Stella ‘wants to believe that the batterer is truly sorry for his abusive behaviour and that he will never harm her again’ but as readers are witness to Stanley abusing her verbally and physically multiple times therefore he can be classed as a several offender. Stanley orders Stella to be quiet whilst playing poker with her friends, she does not, stands up to him and he rushes towards her in a frenzy. She has nothing to protect herself from him and she states ‘You lay your hands on me and I’ll –‘; the fact that she does not finish her sentence show that she is truly helpless and has no choice but to take the beating from him. The Stage directions say ‘she backs out of sight. He advances and disappears. There is the sound of a blow. Stella cries out’; these stage directions describe Stanley hitting her and the sound of her crying with pain; this is a rare point in the play in which one see’s Stella struggling with the failing to tasks that are thrusted upon her in a patriarchal society.

Unlike in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ has a single, female character who has a different role and struggles to the other married characters or those with children. Blanche is the one of the main female character in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. On first appearances, she oozes southern elegance and charm as she is dressed in ‘white’ and dripping in ‘pearls’; she grew up on a southern estate known as ‘Belle Reve’ which means beautiful dream and it means that her family once had money. Blanche believes herself to be ‘a woman of intelligence’ as she was educated and took up a position of a school teacher once earning her qualification.

Similarly, to Blanche, Laila is provided with an education but then she must give up studying when the Taliban take over. In the late 20th century, prior to the rise of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were making strides toward equality as they enjoyed the right of education and employment. Kabul was the epicentre for women’s advancement in Afghanistan prior to the Civil War and Taliban Control as 50% of the students and 60% of the teachers at Kabul university were women; Kabul is the city in which Laila grew up. Her father wanted her to study because he believed that ‘society has no chance at success if its women are uneducated’ and due to his motivation to educate her, Laila enjoys going to school to learn. However, this freedom to be study is taken away from her when the Taliban came to power in 1996 as they stated ‘girls are forbidden from attending school. All schools for girls will be closed immediately’. The use of the word ‘immediately’ indicates that the Taliban believed young girls, like Laila, were a threat to their strict religious regime therefore their education needed to be stopped quickly. The Feminist Majority Foundation stated ‘under Taliban rule woman have been stripped of their visibility, voice and mobility’; in a sense, they had their freedom taken away from them and Laila was subjected to this as well.

Blanche’s role is to oversee Belle Reve when there were no male heirs to take over the property and when Stella moved in with her ‘Pollack’, Stanley. Unexpectedly, her family were plagued with several deaths such as her ‘Father, Mother, and Margaret’ which she describes as ‘the long parade to the graveyard’; the use of the word ‘long’ emphasises the fact that a lot on individuals died in a short amount of time. Furthermore, Blanche married young, to a man known as Allan Grey. He had tenderness ‘which wasn’t like a man’s’ but he ‘wasn’t the least bit effeminate looking

’ therefore it came to a shock to her when she found him in bed with another man but the three of them went dancing together afterwards and accidently Blanche blurted out that she was ‘disgusted’ by him, a few minutes later he went out and shot himself therefore Blanche blamed herself for her husband’s suicide. After these events occurring one after the other, her façade of a perfect woman starts to fall and she moves in with her sister, Stella. Her struggle with suicide and its consequences can be compared to Mariam as her mother, Nana, commits suicide and her last words are ‘I’ll die if you go, I’ll just die’; it is clear that Nana will end her life if Mariam chooses to leave her. Thus, one can say that she is trying to guilt trip Mariam into staying with her and as Mariam does not, she commits suicide which causes Mariam to feel responsible for her mother’s death throughout her life, much like how Blanche feels about her husband.

Blanche struggles to live up to the expectations of a modern woman in American society as she relies on drink to give her confidence. Upon arriving at her sister’s, she seems to be nervous as she is shaking. Therefore, ‘she springs up’ and ‘removes a whiskey bottle’ from a cupboard then ‘she pours a half tumbler of whiskey and tosses it down’. It is obvious that Blanche was actively seeking out alcohol to calm her nerves down and when she finds it she ‘tosses’ a strong alcohol down her throat as if it were nothing. To hide the fact that she has had a drink ‘she carefully replaces the bottle and washes out the tumbler at the sink’ so that her sister does not come home, start asking questions and get angry about her secretive drinking. Blanche argues that ‘one is her limit’ but Stanley argues ‘there’s some people that really touch it, but it touches them often’ and he gives the impression that he knows Blanche is an alcoholic and that she is lying about the amount she drinks.

After the death of her husband, Blanche seeks male companionship to give her confidence, sooth her loneliness and to occupy her mind from the guilt she feels however she looked for it in the wrong places by selling her body for sex and praying on young boys in the school that she taught at in Laurel. Blanche states ‘the Hotel Flamingo is not the sort of establishment I would dare to be seen in!’; the Hotel Flamingo was a hotel in which men could pay prostitutes to have sex with them and Blanche refuses to admit that she had multiple encounters with men there. It is evident to the reader that Blanche is struggling with the demands of being a woman regarded as ‘proper’ and in her failure to be one, one can say that she has become a fallen woman. Additionally, Stanley states ‘she was kicked out before the spring term ended. And I hate to tell you the reason that step was taken. A seventeen-year-old kid she got mixed up with – and the boy’s dad learned about it and he got in touch with the high-school superintendent. And there was practically a town ordinance passed against her.’ The fact that Blanche gets ‘mixed up with’ a ‘seventeen-year-old kid’ shows the extent of her internal suffering, it is so severe that she preyed on a child to make her feel adequate for herself and society.

Conclusively, one can see that all four of these women have expectations to live up to but due to external factors such as death, warfare and children born out of wedlock, sometimes they are unable to fulfil them and the consequences are severe such as being shunned by society or being abused by the male figures in their life. In Afghanistan and in America, even though the countries have different political set ups, there is the common trend that women must live up to higher expectations than men. One may presume that due to the Islamic faith in Afghanistan being dominant, that women in Afghanistan have less freedom but when one looks for the finer details, women in America at the time of the novel is set, have just as little.