Summary and Analysis
Sitting at the end of Jalil's dining table, Mariam is confronted by his wives: Afsoon, Khadija, and Nargis. The wives quickly arrive at the point of the meeting: they've found Mariam a suitor. The suitor, Rasheed, is a middle-aged widower and shoemaker living in Kabul. The three women chime in their approval of the match, ignoring Mariam's protests. Finally, Mariam begs her father to prevent the match from happening. Jalil, refusing to look his daughter in the eye, does not interfere with his wives' aims. The wives go on to inform Mariam her suitor is in Herat and the two will be married the next day; she will then move to Kabul with her new husband. Throughout the meeting, Mariam sees more and more how much the wives long to be rid of her as she is a sign of Jalil's dalliance, a constant reminder of their shame. After the meeting, Afsoon escorts Mariam back to her room, locking the door behind her.
Through dialogue and imagery, Hosseini establishes Mariam's mood and a theme of society versus the individual. First, Hosseini depicts each of the wives separately, describing their physical appearance as Mariam would see them. Then as their true motive surfaces, the three women become one vague entity working together against Mariam. Mariam acknowledges this herself by "no longer keeping track of who was saying what." Hosseini builds on Mariam's overwhelmed state by no longer providing dialogue tags for the individual wives, further crafting them into a unified front. Through this confrontation, both the wives and Mariam lose their individuality: to the wives, Mariam is a problem to be solved, not a girl who's lost her mother; for Mariam, the wives are a single force, unable to see her as a person and focused on removing her from their lives. Social pressures to conform to cultural and religious expectations force the women to find a socially acceptable way to rid themselves of Mariam, who, having no social status of her own and without the help of her father, is forced to accept their terms.
This theme of the self versus social standards is further highlighted by the imagery of Mariam's breath clouding her reflection on the surface of the dining table. After Jalil concedes to his wives' wishes, Mariam realizes more fully how he and the rest of his family see her: simply as a burden, not as a person. As she watches her breath fog on the table top, she feels herself vanishing — vanishing into a new life where she'll be a stranger's wife; and vanishing from her old life, all of the things she once considered constant forces are irrevocably removed. No longer able to define herself as a daughter, and unwilling to see herself as a wife, Mariam must begin to imagine a new sense of self if she is going to be able to meet the challenges facing her.