Endurance of Subaltern in A Thousand Splendid Suns
Literature is the door which opens us the history, culture, society and traditional beliefs all around the world and it reflects life. The word “Literature” is derived from the Latin word literatura/litteratura. It may be in written or oral form and it traces its origin even before the birth of Christ. Language serves as the medium for literature. It helps to project us the ideologies around the world. The earliest forms of literature are Sangam literature which is the ancient Tamil literature, Sumerian literature , Ancient Egyptian literature, Babylonian literature and Chinese literature.
Every civilization has its own literature. Many literature has been given least importance and is often left unheard. One such literature is the Afghanistan literature.
Afghanistan literature is one of the world’s richest literatures. It has centuries-old tradition and are mostly written in Dari, Pashto, Farsi, Arabic and Turkic. The great literary figures of Afghanistan are Rumi, Khushal Khan Khattak, Rahman Baba, Rabia Balki, Shiya Shah, Ghulam Muhammad Tarsi, Ali-Shir Nava’I and many others.
The most important work in Afghanistan is Shah Nameh, an epic poem of 60,000 lines written by Firdawsi in 1010 in Dari language. The earliest writers of Afghanistan wrote about the beauty of Afghan. The literature of Afghanistan are divided into many divisions like Persian literature, Arabic literature, Pashto literature and Turkish literature. Most of the writings are preoccupied by the religious thoughts and philosophical ideas. Looking on the geography of the country, Afghanistan is surrounded by Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan on the north; Pakistan and china on the east; Pakistan on the south and Iran on the west.
Surrounded by many muslim nations this country is very much influenced by Islamic ideologies and is mostly populated by Shia and Sunni Muslims. Many writers write about the natural resources of Afghanistan. But this country is often subjected to the attacks of Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Laskar-e-Taiba and many terrorist groups and gets destructed because of wars. This made the writers to look upon the darker side of the Afghanistan and they often portray the black side of Afghanistan. Their themes are mostly directed to the sufferings and the agony that the Afghan people go through in their daily life. There are some rules and regulations for the people of Afghanistan to follow so the Afghan writers mostly take the ideas for their writings from their real life and pen down their experiences of their day to day activities. They mostly bring out the vilest and the crudest experience of the people through the series of hardship that they go through. The reason for these type of writings are to let the world be known of the sufferings the people of Afghanistan lead. And mostly the writers of fiction end their novel with some spark of hope that one day or another the people of Afghanistan will enjoy their freedom as a payback for all their sufferings. They hope that one day Afghanistan will emerge as one of the superpower nations and one of the peaceful nations in the world.
The last few decades poured out enormous endurance of people in Afghanistan due to wars in literature which attracted enormous attention of the people around the world to look at them. One such writer who writes about the torments and the miseries of the people of Afghanistan is Khalid Hosseini. Hailing from the religious and male dominating capital city of Afghanistan, Kabul, Khaled Hosseini is an Afghan-American physician and a writer. He has written four books which gained him immediate success and recognition all around the world. Born in a highly educated family in Kabul in 1965, he moved to Iran due to his father’s job. At eleven they moved to Paris, France and later to California, USA. He wrote all his novels with the background of Afghanistan. In his first novel he depicts his own experience from his childhood in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion. He also added his immigrant experience and poured out some diasporic elements in it. These experiences are portrayed through the character Amir in his first novel The Kite Runner. This novel carries the theme of friendship, betrayal and the rise of Soviet invasion. This is the first novel to be written in English by an Afghan writer. The Kite Runner was published in 2003. It gained him international acclamation and topped New York Times bestseller list for more than hundred weeks. He was awarded Alex Award for adult/young adult fiction, Borders Original Voice Award and The San Francisco Chronicle Best book of the year award. It was sold more than 18 million copies around the world. The second novel of Khalid Hosseini A Thousand Splendid Suns is a heart wrenching story about the conservative lifestyle of Afghanistan people. It was published in 2007. The novel narrates how women sacrifice their life in the male dominated society. The author portrayed women as the flag bearer of tolerance. He puts forth the effects of civil war, Taliban, communism, soviet invasion and American war on Afghan in this novel. The mindscape of the people due to these series of wars are projected in this novel. It won Indies Choice Award for adult fiction in 2008. The third novel And The Mountains Echoed was published after a gap of six years. It created a lot of anticipation among the avid readers of Khalid Hosseini and around 3 million copies has been sold. Khalid Hosseini has projected Kabul in another perspective leaving out the direct reference to the Taliban attacks and the wars and he concentrated on the familial aspects and the sibling bonds in this novel. And The Mountains Echoed won Andrew Carnegie Medals for excellence in fiction and non-fiction in 2014. The fourth novel Sea Prayer was published in 2018. Khalid Hosseini wrote this book to pay tribute to the Afghan people who were forced to leave their nation for the purpose of war. He was inspired to write this novel by a three year old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi who drowned in mediterranean sea. This novel comprises of letters from a father to his son reminiscing about this past happy days in his grandmother’s house. This story happens during the moonlit night where the father narrates the story to his sleeping son, they were waiting for the dawn and a ship to go on a sea journey in search of a new a land. By close reading of all his novels one can see the fact that Khalid Hosseini is all preoccupied by the pathetic conditions of the people of Afghanistan. By finishing all his novels with a satisfactory end, he concludes his novels with a little air of hope through any one of his characters. Laila is one such character who stands for positivity, strength and hope in the novel A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Hosseini draws his title from a line in a Persian poem Kabul written by a seventeenth century Persian poet Saib-e-Tabrizi. This poem Kabul describes the natural beauty of Afghanistan and praises its scenic beauty.”One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs / And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”(Hosseini, 347).
But Khalid Hosseini ironically uses this title to project the darker and destructive side of Afghanistan because of the wars. The title symbolically represents men as the Moon who are always on the top and in the superior position. The women represents the Sun who shines bright to give light to the life of others and are destined to be inferior and always confined behind the walls. This religious country holds some centuries-old tradition and culture. One of the main cultural ideology they still keep in practice is the ideology of patriarchy. Patriarchy is one of the main cultures of the people of Afghanistan that they inherit from their family, society and religion. There are certain rules for every women in Afghanistan that they need to follow. One of the main ideology they should follow is the idea of patriarchy. The women should be under the clutches and watchful eyes of men. By some extent this ideology do justice to the society but when this idea begin to extend itself in all the fields there comes the oppression and imperialistic thoughts. By this means the men begin to capture the power position. They begin to enter the power domain politically, economically and socially. Patriarchy is such a system which is deeply rooted in Afghanistan. Right from where they worship there is a patriarchy. They never allowed women to enter into their temples. Women are kept only within the four walls of their house. Women are given least education or no education. Thus these practices are deeply rooted to them both consciously and unconsciously. The women are only seen as an entity just to give birth, to maintain their households and to take care of the men and children. This is the plight of women in Afghanistan. Thus these men showcase their power by suppressing the rights of women and snatching the freedom from women in all fields and the men practice the power position. The hegemonical thoughts of men begin to enter into the women position and begin to confiscate the whole rights of women. These women are deprived of their own identity. They are always considered subordinate to men by acting according to the whims and fancies of men. They hold this cultural norm even from their childhood by confiscating the women of their basic needs. After all these situations women still hold all the humiliation and suffering within them. All the voices from the women in Afghanistan are always left unheard. The women are always considered to be the subordinate being and so the women position can be analysed with the theory of Subaltern studies.
The term Subaltern is a Latin term in which “Sub” means “under” and “Altern” means “others” which means under others. This term can be used to refer any person who is considered subordinate because of the country, community, race, gender, and economy. This term is first used by an Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. He used this term to address the subordinate people in the non-hegemonic groups or classes especially in southern Italy. This theory later influenced some of Indian theoreticians like Ranajit Guha, Gayatri Chakravorthy Spivak, Dipesh Chakrabarty. They laid some strong foundations for the subaltern theories in the east. This theory emerged at the last half of twentieth century. The product of Post modernism is the theory of Post colonialism. The product of Post colonialism is the theories of Marxism, Post structuralism and Subaltern studies. The subaltern theory deals with the two main terms of the colonizer and the colonized as in the Postcolonial studies. This theory can also be associated with the theory of Orientalism where this theory also shares the concepts of the colonizer and the colonized. The term Orientalism is the stereotyped and the prejudiced judgments of the western people on the eastern countries . Through all these years there has been some prejudices and wrong judgments about the eastern countries to the western people. This type of judgmental stereotypes acts as a barrier for the western people to know about the culture, literature and the customs of the eastern people. Here the western people look at the eastern as someone who is strange, uneducated, exotic and uncultured. Thus they portray eastern countries as something inferior to the western countries. Here the western countries stands for the cultured, dominating, superior power whereas the eastern countries stands for the uncultured and inferior and suppressed people but the truth is that they are not like what western countries portray them but in reality they are wrongly understood by the colonial notion. The western countries represent the men in Afghanistan and the eastern countries represent the women in Afghanistan. The women are not properly understood by the men. They are under the conservative idea about the women and the men are not giving equal rights and The same can be put in the context of subaltern theory. In this novel the subaltern theory can be applied because of the gender position. In subaltern theory the colonizer and the colonized are taken into account. The men are the colonizers whereas the women are the colonized. This can be applied in all areas like race, gender, ethnicity, community etc. In A Thousand Splendid Suns the colonizers are the men, the society because of the war, the economic pressures and the colonized are the women who are mentally and physically tormented by the men and the society. They are the subaltern voices in the society. They cannot raise their voices and their voices are always left unheard. They are damned to live forever within the four walls of their houses. The men in Afghanistan look at the women to be inferior and they want them to be within the social and cultural constraints. Even the biggest mistakes of men are not seen by the society whereas the mistakes of women are considered to be highly serious and they are accused for their mistakes and in turn they should be paid for their small mistakes.
In A Thousand Splendid Suns the female characters are the colonized and they live under the clutches of the male characters who are the representation of the colonizers. The characters Mariam and Laila are the colonized and they act according to the whims and fancies of their colonizer husband Rasheed. These female characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns are the representation of most of the women in Afghanistan. Not only the protagonists but also the minor women characters in this novel also portrays the position of subaltern in Afghanistan. The women were so badly treated and all the women were pushed to lead their life within the constraints of the patriarchal society. The women were not given any place to identify themselves rather they were just seen as an entity. They were not only dominated by men but they were also dominated by the political society. The women were subjected to “Double Marginalization” because of both the men and the society. The plot of the novel starts from 1974 to 2013. The main aim of this novel is to show the political and social struggle in Afghanistan. The writer introduce the characters as the representation of the Afghanistan people. These years were considered to be so hectic years for the people of Afghanistan because of the series of wars that happened. Right from the civil wars between the ethnic groups of Afghanistan, Communist coup, Soviet invasions, US invasion and Taliban rule there were a lot of distortion in the land of Afghanistan and the minds of Afghanistan people. During the Mujahideen rule the women enjoyed their freedom and also acted according to the Islamic rules. The country was in total chaos when both the ethnic parties began their civil war. Many people lost their family, many schools collapsed, all the hospitals were shut down and the country was in the complete disorder. Amidst all this confusion the women in Afghanistan were suppressed both physically and mentally. They suffered domestically and socially. The women in Afghanistan are represented through the characters Mariam and Laila. These two women lived under the imperialistic rule of their husband Rasheed. They are the subalterns in this novel. This paper brings out the endurance of these subalterns in the hegemonic society.