Within Hosseini’s ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ and Atwood’s ‘The Year of the Flood’, each modern novel’s societies present their central women characters as being enslaved. Whilst each society is entirely different as ‘The Year of the Flood’ is post-apocalyptic and on the other hand ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ follows the ever changing political situation in Afghanistan, they both suggest that women are enslaved. The term ‘enslaved’ is defined as ‘a state of subjugation’ in which the oppressor has control of the oppressed.
Arguably, this applies to both the central women characters Toby from ‘The Year of the Flood’ and Mariam from ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’. The objectification of women in both novels significantly contributes to the enslavement, therefore showing how as central characters they are effectively enslaved by the males within society. In ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, Hosseini immediately introduces the reader to the oppression of the central women characters whereas in Atwood’s ‘The Year of the Flood’, the introduction of the enslavement of women is significantly more subtle.
Hosseini structurally shows the reader that women are submissive to men by introducing the central theme of women being enslaved by men inside society within the first chapter. Hosseini familiarises the reader to the problems women face through secondary characters such as Nana. The idea that the negative effects of society goes beyond Mariam, the main character, signifies that this is a wider problem which therefore presents the bigger picture to the reader. Nana’s speech “like a compass needle…always finds a woman,” sets the detrimental tone women face throughout the novel.
Hosseini’s use of simile “like a compass needle points north,” shows the seriousness of the oppression that women face. Alternatively, it could be interpreted as Hosseini highlighting how no matter what a women does it will always be considered wrong. This is suggests that it is as certain as the likelihood of a compass pointing north which is definite. Through this, Hosseini foreshadows the dubiousness of the situation changing which draws the reader’s attention to the treatment of women as a major theme.
Hosseini’s use of negative prefixes “disown” “disgrace” create a harsh sound, accompanying the harsh treatment experienced by Nana. It shows that the actions of men have a severe effect on the lives of women to the point of being outcast by society. This could be interpreted as Hosseini subtly using Nana as a metaphor to represent how Mariam will experience harmful treatment at the hands of men throughout the novel just as her mother did. On the other hand, ‘the Year of the Flood’ is not obviously focused on women’s status in society due to the subtle introduction.
Arguably, within the post-apocalyptic society, there are ‘bigger’ issues such as environmental issues. However, Atwood indicates that there is tension surrounding the subject of women’s oppressive position in society. Whilst it is not explicitly stated, “voice of women…rejuvenation” it does imply that women are being oppressed by a certain force. The repetition of “women” reiterates how they are the ones targeted by the threat. The use and repetition of the past tense “used” contributes to the idea that these women are no longer alive and therefore have succumbed to the threat.
In addition, it prompts the reader to question what has happened to them. The non-existent use of specific names suggests that this is a threat that affects wider society. The disinterest in women’s oppression contributes to Atwood’s idea of realism. Within Atwood’s dystopian setting, there are more pressing issues such as survival. It could be argued that Atwood uses this to create a similarity with the dystopian world and our own. This is because it appears there is no ‘good’ time for a gender equality movement, especially during a dystopian setting.
However, in our own world whilst women’s rights are an issue, it does not take centre stage which is mirrored in Atwood’s novel. Furthermore, it could be interpreted as Atwood using indirect discourse on the issue of enslavement of women by society to show how if this issue continues to be ignored, nothing will change. This is a direct contrast to ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ where there is a direct threat to women rather than a hidden issue in the ‘Year of the Flood’. Within each novel the writers show the reader that women are treated as possessions of men rather than individuals, resulting in their enslavement.
Atwood highlights how women are under the control of men through the way Toby, one of the central characters, is treated by Blanco. Atwood foreshadows Toby’s treatment through the dialogue between Toby and Rebecca. The use of gruesome imagery describes Blanco’s previous girl’s death “neck broke, cut to bits” in a matter of fact tone. The tone is due to how the description used is not associated with emotive language, creating a sense of detachment. Moreover, the use of onomatopoeia “cut” “broke” creates sharp sounds reinforcing this harsh language to the reader.
However, the scarce amount of emphasis placed upon the horrifying state the girl was found in could be Atwood showing how society does not care for the girl as she is one of many. This reiterates how women as a group are not cared for within society as well as showing that this is a wider problem as these murders go unchallenged. Equally, this may be Atwood using the murdered girl to signify how there will always be another one which foreshadows how Toby could be the next victim.
Moreover, Atwood cements Blanco’s position of power and the objectification of Toby. The depersonalisation of women is shown by the small canvas of names used. Instead, women are referred to by words with negative connotations such as “skinny bitch”, a derogatory term. The word “bitch” is a known offensive term for women which dates back to at least the seventeenth century. Through this, Atwood shows the enslavement of women in society to the ‘omnipotent’ man has continued throughout history.
Atwood juxtaposes “promoting you” against “skinny bitch” as a promotion should be something that creates positive imagery however the distinction between two creates a sense of negative foreboding for the reader. The use of the personal pronoun “I’m” from Blanco shows that he is in control and alludes to the idea that Toby should be grateful for what he is giving her. This shows the extent of women’s enslavement in society and how they have no other options. Similarly, in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ women are treated as possessions of men, resulting in their enslavement.
Hosseini shows this through Mariam being unable to choose who she wants to marry, irrespective of her age. Mariam appears to be at the control and mercy of men as she is treated like an object. The main example of this is the marriage between Mariam and Rasheed. Hosseini shows how Mariam is not considered important through the order of which the characters are asked about the marriage. As Jalil is asked if he has any “objections to the union”, this suggests that Mariam has no choice in the matter.
Equally, the marriage could be interpreted as Mariam being a transaction as she is treated like property, highlighting her enslavement in society. The marriage is considered a “contract” which implies the marriage is a transaction and Mariam is the product. Alternatively, Hosseini shows the enslavement of Mariam as a “contract” suggests a binding situation in which Mariam is unable to escape and has no control over. Hosseini emphasises that Mariam is entrapped, she will be enslaved into this marriage against her will which contributes to the nslavement as she has no rights.
Additionally, the “thin, gold band” represents Mariam’s entrapment in the form of an object. Moreover, the band being “a little tight” shows the situation is suffocating Mariam as there is no escape. The “forcing” of the band over Mariam’s finger is a symbol for how Mariam is forced into the marriage. The forceful nature of this transaction shows not only Mariam’s entrapment in society and likewise, the large extent of her enslavement. In each novel, both authors use symbolism to emphasise the oppressive attitudes towards women by society.
In ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, each house Mariam lives in represents entrapment and therefore enslavement. Initially, the description of the symbolic house she lives in represents the key characteristics of her entrapment. The “clearing” the house is situated in physically isolates Mariam from the outside world. Whilst it is not directly stated, it is implied that the house is not a palace “wooden floorboards” “dirt track” which shows the reader how Jalil’s choice of where Mariam lives has implications for her life quality, highlighting the level of control he holds over her.
Hosseini uses irony as whilst Jalil is metaphorically the guard to the prison, Mariam’s home, he is also her link to the outside world. The reoccurrence of the symbolism of literal imprisonment is reinforced by Mariam’s imposed captivity by Rasheed in the tool shed. Rasheed’s ability to treat Mariam as though she is an animal rather than a person by using a “padlock” to ensure this. This comparison to an animal shows how Mariam is not treated as a human, she is a problem which can be solved by the use of a padlock.
Ironically, the imprisonment of Mariam in places that are not literal imprisonments could be Hosseini foreshadow where Mariam will end up at the end of the novel. This physical imprisonment symbolises the insubstantial amount of control Mariam has and how she is at the mercy of Rasheed, her husband. On the other hand, Atwood uses religious symbolism to signify the divide between men and women. To a large extent, the central women characters (Toby and Mariam) are presented as being enslaved by the men within their societies.
Through the introduction of the theme of women’s enslavement to the depersonalisation of women or their objectification, it is clear to the reader that women have a place in society – beneath men. Despite each novel taking place in different time frames, in the future for one and in the past for the other, the issue with women is longstanding and unavoidable. The representation of central women characters is true to the definition of enslavement as the women are persecuted by their male counterparts within each novel’s society.