Summary and Analysis
Over the next few days, Mariam and Rasheed settle into a temporary routine. Rasheed leaves for work in the morning and Mariam spends her days either in bed or fretfully pacing the small house. After eating dinner alone, Rasheed knocks on Mariam's bedroom door and sits in the doorway telling her about his day. After a week of this, Rasheed informs Mariam that the next day she must begin her wifely duties.
The next morning, Mariam wakes up, cleans the house, soaks lentils and vegetables, and makes dough for bread. She walks down the street to the community tandoor oven to cook her bread, following the women and children heading to the same destination. She's surprised by the women's talk of ungrateful husbands and wonders how so many women end up in such bad marriages. While waiting in line she meets Fariba and her son, Noor. Fariba makes friendly talk with Mariam, trying to make her feel welcome. Soon all of the neighborhood women have crowded around Mariam, asking her about the children she plans to have and how she's settling in with Rasheed. Overwhelmed, Mariam flees the women and gets hopelessly lost trying to find her way back home.
Later that evening, Rasheed enjoys the daal and rice Mariam made for dinner, and Mariam experiences a moment of pride in having made a satisfactory meal. During dinner, Rasheed presents Mariam with a burqa, explaining that he's a traditional man and he feels a wife's face should only be seen by her husband, adding that he deplores the "modern" men and women he sees in the more wealthy sections of Kabul. While Mariam has always worn a headscarf, she's surprised by the burqa, but quietly takes it from Rasheed.
Hosseini develops Rasheed's character and introduces a symbol through the gift of the burqa, both elements building on the theme of gender roles. Rasheed's traditionalism emerges more fully through his treatment of and expectations for Mariam as his wife. While he allows her a week to adjust to her new life, he does little else to help her. Furthermore, after insisting Mariam start to act like a wife, he gladly judges her ability to do so. For instance, although he enjoys the meal she's made, he tells her it's not salted enough. Then, in presenting her with a burqa, he explains his view that wives belong to their husbands and that it's only proper that her face and body be hidden from public view.
Thus, the burqa becomes more than a sign of religious belief, but also a symbol of Rasheed's will and control over Mariam. In presenting her with his gift, he does not ask for her opinion of burqas or whether or not she's comfortable wearing one. Instead, he states his opinion and merely asks if she understands. In her acceptance of the burqa, Mariam reveals her unwillingness to stand up against her husband and her growing understanding of Rasheed's strict ideals and their effect on her lifestyle.
Through Mariam's experiences taking on her wifely duties and the gift of the burqa, Hosseini is able to further develop how gender roles inform Kabul society. The women Mariam meets are as interested in enforcing gender norms as Rasheed is. They ask her about the children she will have, praising boys for carrying on a family name and girls for sticking around and helping with housework. Through their questions, they reveal their need to reinforce the same ideals they aspire to: a good wife is one who makes children and that's that. Furthermore, Rasheed's expectations of a submissive wife indicates he has no interest in challenging the norms of his neighborhood; he even criticizes Fariba and her husband, Hakim, claiming Hakim has lost control of his wife. All of these experiences reveal how Mariam's life with Nana, through its isolation, helped her grow up more independently than women growing up in a traditional two-parent household. Mariam lived with the strong, independent, outspoken Nana and never had to think about public expectations on her behavior. Through Mariam's adjustment to the expectations for her as a woman and a wife, Hosseini explores the way society informs and guides behavior via gender.