Rasheed is a widowed shoemaker whose first wife and son died many years before his marriage to 15-year-old Mariam. Conservative and willful, Rasheed quickly instructs Mariam on what he believes an ideal wife should be: subservient, obedient, and fertile. When Mariam proves to be unable to have children, Rasheed loses patience with her and abuses her both physically and verbally. Endlessly motivated by the desire to replace his dead son, Rasheed entraps Laila, another young girl with limited options, into marriage. Only when Laila provides him with a son do Rasheed's redeeming qualities emerge: With Zalmai, Rasheed is patient, loving, kind, and gentle. However, Rasheed's affection for Zalmai does not extend to Laila's daughter, Aziza, or to his two wives. Rasheed's cruel, manipulative ways eventually result in Mariam killing him in self-defense.