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For years, sociologists have been developing various theories as to when and how an individual becomes an adult. In sociology, the topic of adulthood is very contradictory, as it can be perceived in different ways. Many sociologists believe that an individual must face psychological, biological, cultural-sociological, and environmental factors that will influence a person’s development. The author Khaled Hosseini, uses the two main characters, Laila and Mariam, to demonstrate the similarities and differences between the two, and these theories of adulthood can further prove what factors influence the transition into adults, as it directly correlate to the internal and external factors they must face.

In the novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, both Mariam and Laila display extensive development throughout the novel, however, Laila’s transition into adulthood happens at a more rapid pace in contrast to Mariam’s. This is because growing up Laila had close family relationships, and a thorough education, which led to her developing an overall strong sense of self-confidence and character. Laila’s rapid maturity enables her to stand up for herself and Mariam, think clearly, and make the right decisions, as well Laila ultimately helps Mariam develop into adulthood. Having strong and supportive family connections is necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Laila grew up in an encouraging family environment compared to Mariam who grew up in very toxic conditions. For the whole of Mariam’s childhood upbringing, she has been exposed to her mother, Nana, who has been emotionally, mentally, and verbally abusive towards Mariam.

Nana’s inability to show any kind of sentiment towards Mariam stems from her upbringing, and the fact that she is not fully loved, and Nana, unfortunately, passes this on to Mariam. From a very young age, Mariam adored and worshipped her father, Jalil, she always looked forward to seeing him next. However, it is later revealed that Jalil is conflicted about his relationship with Mariam, as he shows some affection for her, but still is ashamed and embarrassed to bring her to Herat and let her meet his other kids. When Mariam finds out about this, she is heartbroken, it tears her apart and is forever instilled in her that the one person she thought loved her, did not share that same mindset. The lack of these strong emotional and nurturing relationships led Mariam to an environment of complete loneliness, as revealed to the reader when the narrator states, “She picked up ten pebbles and arranged them vertically, in three columns. […] She put four pebbles in the first column, for Khadija’s children, three for Afsoon’s, and three in the third column for Nargis’s children. Then she added a fourth column. A solitary, eleventh pebble” (Hosseini 28-29). This one lonely stone signifies Mariam’s isolation and realization that there is no place for her in the family. This imaginative and youthful game turns into internal conflict for Mariam, as she is coming to terms with her status as an unwanted and illegitimate child. The constant bullying and isolation Mariam faced from childhood and then when living with Rasheed negatively impacted her ability to form a strong sense of self-confidence and ultimately held her back from development.

Similar to Mariam, Laila’s relationship with her mum, Fariba, deprives her of that essential and nurturing mother-daughter bond and forces Laila into a state of independence and isolation. Fariba’s tendency to put her sons Ahmad and Noor first made Laila invisible to her mother and reinforced her non-existent connection with her mother. However, Laila’s good-hearted relationship with her father makes up for this and allows Laila to not feel complete loneliness. Laila’s relationship with her father, Hakim, is encouraging, expressive, supportive, and respectful. The love that Laila has for her father is reciprocated, in a way that Mariam has never known. Laila’s father is very vocal about education, specifically for women, and believes that all women should have the same rights men do and that mindset was beneficial to When Tariq is leaving for Pakistan, he asks Laila to go with him, which she responds, “It’s my father I can’t leave,” Laila said. “I’m all he has left. His heart couldn’t take it either” (Hosseini 184). This demonstrates the importance of family to Laila, as she would not leave her father for absolutely anything, despite being heartbroken about staying. Laila believes that she must stay with her father as he has always been there for her, encouraging her along the way, and thinks that leaving him behind for a better life would be insulting and dishonorable of her. This close relationship Laila had with Hakim, benefited her in developing into an adult, as she had emotional support when she was younger, but then eventually had to suffer the loss of both her parents, which exposed her to the abusiveness from Rasheed. In turn, having experienced those hardships ultimately pushed forth her development, forming the well-rounded person she becomes towards the end of the novel. Without close family relationships, an individual’s overall development may be hindered compared to an individual who has close family relationships. Education is extremely important regarding an individual’s overall development. In Laila’s family education was valued, however, Mariam grew up in a family where it was disregarded. Mariam’s educational experience or lack thereof is limited to learning how to read and write at the hands of her tutor, Mullah Faizullah. As well, it was Mariam’s dream to attend school, she romanticizes the idea of learning, and the persecution that she faces from her parents, Rasheed, and society directly ties into the deprivation of education in her life. While, yes, it is great that she is being educated in some way, the society that she lives in, tolerates and recognizes the importance of education. When the idea of Mariam going to school gets brought up to her mother, she turns it down immediately.

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Nana is against Mariam attending school as she believes an illegitimate person like Mariam has no entitlement and does not deserve to attend school. The readers learn this when Nana says, “What’s the sense in schooling a girl like you? It’s like shining a spittoon. And you’ll learn nothing of value in those schools. […]” (Hosseini 18). Nana’s harsh view of Mariam attending school has direct negative implications for Mariam. The inability to go to school has deprived Mariam’s potential to become self-sufficient and develop relationships that could give Mariam hope in finding love, the absence of education forced Mariam into a submissive lifestyle. Laila grew up in a very fortunate time for women, as they were allowed and even encouraged by some to go to school. Laila took advantage of this opportunity and ended up becoming a very bright student, excelling at school, which led to her achieving various awards and being recognized for her outstanding performance. Laila’s education gave her an advantage over Mariam who did not go to school, as she had the background, intelligence, and social skills Mariam lacked.

Laila’s father, Hakim, provides a positive view on education and believes that it is a vital component in someone’s life. Furthermore, Hakim is adamant that women will be the key to the future, and that they will be needed as much as men are needed. Hakim says, “I know you’re still young, but I want you to understand and learn this now, he said. Marriage can wait, education cannot. […] Because a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated, Laila. No chance” (Hosseini 114). Hakim has high hopes for Laila and has confidence that she will become a successful figure and change the world. Hakim’s passion for educated women influences Laila’s character, fundamentally empowering her to become an adult. There is a distinct contrast between Nana’s and Hakim’s view of education, which gives insight into both Mariam and Laila’s childhood upbringings. The advantage of education increases an individual’s overall development positively and without an education, an individual’s development is negatively affected. Self-confidence and a strong character a significant trait that aids in an individual’s overall development and Having these traits provides an individual with the ability to value themselves and further in their overall development. Growing up Mariam lacked those close family connections and educational experiences which further forced her into submission.

Mariam constant exposure to Nana’s abuse molds her into believing that she has no worth, this is revealed when Mariam states, “She understood then what Nana meant, that a harami was an unwanted thing; that she, Mariam, was an illegitimate person who would never have a legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance” (Hosseini 4). From the beginning of the novel, Mariam has always felt unwanted, and illegitimate, this view has led her to believe that she would never be loved, or cherished. Furthermore, as Mariam progresses through the chapters the thought of never being loved restricts her abilities to fully develop. Mariam constantly submits to everything and everyone forces her to be weak and powerless, she lets people walk all over her and deprive her of basic rights.

Meeting Laila turns her life around, allowing her to be confident and mature. Laila’s positive childhood experiences allowed her to develop an overall strong character, which further enabled her to become independent, resilient, and persistent in a search to free herself from Rasheed. The friends and family that surround Laila are extremely proud of her and believe that she can do anything. Having people there for you, and always encouraging helps Laila push through the hardships she encounters, this is displayed when Laila recalls when her friend, Hasina, says ”By the time we’re twenty, Hasina used to say, Giti and I, we’ll have pushed out four, five kids each. But you, Laila, you’ll make us two dummies proud. You’re going to be somebody. I know one day I’ll pick up a newspaper and find your picture on the front page” (Hosseini 166). This encouragement guides Laila into a state of confidence which enables her to stand up for herself, Mariam, and her children. Laila’s friends, Giti and Hasina, are persecuted by the patriarchal society they live in and conform to fit the stereotypes. Though, Laila’s character allows her to stand out and be brave. Further in the novel, it is evident that Laila has strong character and confidence as she can stand up to Rasheed. Laila’s strong sense of self-confidence is illustrated throughout the novel compared to Mariam who lacks this trait and as a result, her development is negatively affected. The distinct contrast between Mariam and Laila’s upbringing can give the reader a sense of who the character will become and what direction they’re headed in towards the end of the story. Throughout the novel, a parallel can be distinguished, ultimately illustrating Laila and Mariam’s situations, and proving how important determinants are in our overall development. These factors such as close family relationships, education, and self-confidence have a strong effect on an individual’s development.  

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