Burqa, Polygyny, Purdah, and Maternity: Slippery Aspects of Female Oppression in Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns

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Phacharawan Boonpromkul


Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) is a remarkable novel that deals directly with challenging issues of women in Afghanistan, a country often perceived as an extreme case of long-standing, traditional patriarchy, worsened by decades of military conflict. This paper discusses the practices and the implications of the burqa wearing, polygyny, and purdah or gender segregation—all of which are highly contested areas associated with Islamic cultures and have proved extremely ambivalent in Hosseini’s novel. Reading this novel against existing debates on these issues can help readers develop a better understanding and a more empathetic attitude toward Afghanistan and Afghan women, too. Lastly, the author also discusses the topic of motherhood and argues that Hosseini exploits this particular cross-cultural value in order to generate appreciation of the female sex under the extensively oppressive Taliban rule. As a result, Hosseini succeeds in achieving dramatic impact and creating memorable female characters, but at the same time he emphasizes and arguably perpetuates the androcentric ideology that contributes to the restriction of women to a single, specific role as selfless mothers.


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Author Biography

Phacharawan Boonpromkul

Phacharawan Boonpromkul received an M.A. in English from the Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University. She is currently teaching at the Department of English Language and Literature, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Thammasat University. Her areas of interests include women’s literature, ecocriticism, postcolonial literature, and late 19th Century literature.


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