Summary and Analysis
Chapter 31 - Mariam
Laila, Mariam, and Rasheed settle into a routine. After Rasheed leaves for work, the women do their best to avoid each other throughout the day. Finally, over dinner one night, Rasheed insists they act as a family. Rasheed then tells Laila that Mariam is a bastard, then he gives Laila the same lecture he once gave Mariam — she must wear a burqa in public. This time, Rasheed goes one step further and tells Laila that she's not to leave the house at all — if Laila needs anything during the day, she should send Mariam out for it. Rasheed then threatens Mariam to enforce these guidelines, making it clear that Mariam will be the one who suffers if Laila breaks the rules.
The next day, Laila tries to discuss Rasheed's rules with Mariam. Mariam sets Laila straight: she will not be Laila's servant. The two of them will divide the chores and beyond that, they will have no relationship with one another. Laila is shocked by Mariam's declaration, having hoped they would be allies in this marriage.
Hosseini uses metaphor to describe Mariam's perception of Laila; reveals more of Rasheed's character through dialogue; and expands the theme of gender expectations, and how those expectations shape relationships, both across and within genders.
The chapter begins with a string of metaphors describing Laila's presence in the house. Mariam describes Laila as a "creaking bedspring" and "water splashing." These descriptions show how Mariam is trying to make sense of Laila's entrance into her life. By describing Laila in non-human terms — as the sound of a bedspring, for example — she's able to distance herself from Laila and protect herself from getting emotionally involved with the girl. These metaphors contrast with the ones she used to describe Rasheed at their wedding ceremony, which were more organic — his voice was like dried leaves. This was not so much a way for Mariam to — distance herself from Rasheed, but an attempt to connect him to things she already understood, like the natural world.
Rasheed's true manipulative nature emerges more fully in this chapter. He put on a show of compassion and kindness to Laila in the beginning, but now he's enacted his will over her. Rasheed tells Laila that her parents did not raise her with enough propriety and that he'd have to rectify that by having her wear a burqa and live a much more modest, reserved life. Through his insults and explanations of his idea of a woman's honor, Rasheed pulls the same stunt he did with Mariam, turning from a suitor to a dominator at the drop of a hat.
Rasheed extends his power by creating distrust between the two women during the dinner scene. After insulting and instructing Laila, he orders Mariam to be the enforcer of his rules, warning her that she'll be punished if Laila misbehaves. Rasheed's expectations that these women act subservient and that they police each other threatens the chance these women will unite against the man they both abhor. Thus Hosseini demonstrates again the potential cruelty in following rigid gender roles. Not only does Rasheed's dominance limit and control Mariam and Laila's lives, it also prevents them from taking comfort in one another's company.