Applying Archetypal Literary to A Thousand Splendid Suns

What is An Archetype?

“An archetype is an ideal example or model after which other things are patterned.” In literature archetypes are patterns, images, objects, characters that remind you of other patterns, images, objects, and characters that you’ve seen before. “Archetypal criticism argues that archetypes determine the form and function of literary works, that a text’s meaning is shaped by cultural and psychological myths” (

Herat, Afghanistan

Archetypal Character in A Thousand Splendid Suns:

Mariam The Main Character:

Mariam is the archetypal hero in A Thousand Splendid Suns, as the novel mainly revolves around her, her struggles, and the relationships with the people around her. What are the specific characteristics of The Hero archetype? The hero archetype’s characteristics are that they have an unusual circumstances of birth, a traumatic event happens, that they help others and sacrifice themselves, and the hero experiences atonement with the father. These characteristics are all embodied by Mariam. Mariam’s circumstances at birth are very unique, as she is an illegitimate child or “harami.” Throughout her childhood she suffers shame, Jalil hides Mariam and Nana, and the shame is also experienced by her own mother too, “What a stupid girl you are! You think you matter to him, that you’re wanted in his house? You think you’re a daughter to him?”(Hosseini 27) Mariam lives an isolated childhood raised by her mother away from people who lead a normal life. The traumatic event that Mariam experiences is when she finds her mother dead “The rope drooping from a high branch. Nana dangling at the end of it” (Hosseini 36). This traumatic event leads to other unfortunate events in the novel such as her marriage at the age of 15 to an abusive husband. Also, she helps Laila, who becomes Rasheed’s second wife. Mariam is at first reluctant but later befriends her to cope with the abuse of Rasheed, “…a look passed between Laila and Mariam. An unguarded, knowing look. And in this fleeting, wordless exchange with Mariam, Laila knew that they were not enemies any longer” (Hosseini 224). Eventually Mariam becomes the mother figure and sacrifices herself so that Laila, Tariq, Aziza and Zalmai can live a better life, “Who will take care of them then? The Taliban? Think like a mother, Laila jo. Think like a mother. I am” (Hosseini 358). Further, Mariam’s atonement with her father occurs after her death when Laila receives a letter. In the letter Rasheed writes that Mariam is a good daughter and that he regrets not taking her in, and he asks Mariam to visit him as he is dying. Although Mariam didn’t see the letter, it shows the redemption between the father and Mariam in the novel. Mariam’s thoughts display her heroic attitude clearly making her the hero through archetypal criticism in this novel.

Laila: The Child Archetype

Although Laila is the second female protagonist in the novel she is always taken care of and is dependent on someone else throughout the novel. Laila is raised and given advice by her father throughout her child age and teenage years who even advised her to get educated, “I know you’re still young, but I want you to understand and learn this now, he said. Marriage can wait, education cannot”(Hosseini 114). The author uses clear language to show how Laila is always being told advice by her father and that she idolizes her father. When Laila marries Rasheed, Mariam becomes a mother figure for both her and her daughter Aziza, she protects them and evenetually sacrifices her life for them.

Mullah Faizullah: The Wise Old Man

Mullah Faizullah is the archetypal wise old man, he expresses traits such as that he is represented as wise and kind, he acts as a mentor, and he is almost a father figure. When Mariam’s and Nana’s relationship is strained she goes to the Mullah for advice on how to approach her mother. There comes to a point where Mariam wants to go to school and she asks Mullah Faizullah to convinve her mother to go to school, “And you want me to ask your mother for permission. Mariam smiled. Other than Jalil, she thought there was no one in the world who understood her better than her old tutor”(Hosseini 18). Mullah Faizullah strives to teach Mariam compassion and the true meaning of the Islamic religion unlike the Taliban who are mentioned later in the book who “use the guise of religion to take power” ( “The Mullah admitted to Mariam, that, at times, he did not understand the meaning of the Koran’s words. But he said liked the enchanting sounds the Arabic words made as they rolled of his tongue” (Hosseini 17). Mariam took the Mullah’s words to heart and learned that the Koran’s words would comfort her in times of need.

Symbol Archetypes in A Thousand Splendid Suns

The Stream


The stream to me is the barrier between Mariam and her father’s real life, it’s almost like a fence. When Jalil is first introduced in the book he constantly has to cross that stream to get to her, there is always that barrier between them. “Then the boys would transfer the wheel barrow across the stream and load it up again. Another two hundred yards of pushing followed, this time through tall, dense grass and around thickets of shrubs”(Hosseini 13). This shows Jalils separation from Mariam and how he lived a double life. When Mariam does not show up to visit her it that stream that is put between her and her father, in the end she has to decide whether she wants to cross that stream to with her father or stay with her mother. Mariam takes the leap of faith and decides to cross the stream to find the true love of her father, “So she waited until her legs were stiff. This time, she did not go back to the kolba. she rolled up the legs of her trousers to the knees, crossed the stream, and, for the first time in her life headed down the hill for herat” (Hosseini 30). With Mariam crossing the stream into Herat this was the beginning into her life, a life she may have regretted but it opened up a new path.

The Burqa

Women Wearing Burqa

One of the biggest symbols in this book is the burqa, the burqa symbolizes the oppression of women and taking away their rights. Rasheed was a firm believer that women shouldn’t have rights and that wearing the burqa was a must even before the Taliban enforced it. “Mariam never before worn a burqa. Rasheed had to help her put it on. The padded headpiece felt tight and heavy on her skull and it was strange seeing the world through a mesh screen” (Hosseini 72). Mariam after putting on the burqa begins to have comfort in it, Mariam has been oppressed all of her life and this the last layer to strip her of all of her rights. “…she did not mind so much the music, the smoke, even the people. And the burqa she learned to her surprised, was also comforting. It was like a one way window. She no longer worried what people knew with a single glance all the shameful the secrets of her past”(Hosseini 73). With Mariam wearing the burqa it is the last piece to surrendering to Rasheed and becoming a woman without a face or voice.

Works cited

The Hero Archetype in Literature, Religion, Movies, and Popular Culture: A Graduate Project,, Khaled. A Thousand Splendid Suns. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.Shmoop Editorial Team. “Mullah Faizullah in A Thousand Splendid Suns.” Shmoop, Shmoop University, 11 Nov. 2008,“Symbols: The Stream.” A Thousand Splendid Suns,“Wise Old Man.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 July 2019, “Archetype Examples.” YourDictionary, 9 June 2016,

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