In texts support the idea that the imbalance of

In both ‘A Thousand Splendid
Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini and ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ by Thomas Hardy, the
authors both use their own individual narratives to demonstrate the unjust
position of females in their respective societies, be it in modern Afghanistan or
Victorian England. Both novels similarly explore and condemn the prevalent
patriarchy present in these societies, and question the inequitable social
expectations of women that are reinforced differently by the covert and
explicit tyrannical masculine characters within the novels. Both texts support
the idea that the imbalance of power between men and women is one of the most
persistent issues in literature. The authors themselves often take on an
intrusive role as narrator to reinforce this idea of gender inequality, and one
of the main aims of the novels is to directly inform both modern and past
audiences of the gender imbalance, and ultimately elicit sympathy for the
female characters in the novel.

 

Despite the difference in
culture and era, both the Victorian and 20th Century Afghanistan
societies were focused heavily on patriarchy. In a similar way, both Hardy and
Hosseini explore the expectations of female behaviour that is imposed upon
women in their respective societies. The female characters in the novel, Tess,
Mariam and Laila were forced to suffer, sacrifice and endure at the hand of
their male superiors. In ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, it can be argued that
Tess’ misfortune and strife is all rooted from a man, her very own father John
Derbyfield. As a low income family, the Durbeyfield’s must work underclass
manual labour jobs. John Derbyfield relies on his horse as a form of transports
to support his job as a ‘haggler’. When Derbyfield gets too drunk and is unable
to take the family horse to work, it is left to Tess to take the horse to make
a delivery. Here the horse is killed accidentally, which inevitably leads to
Tess’ having to find work. This sets off the chain of Tess’s tragedy, which can
ultimately be traced back to her father. Marxist/Feminist inclusive critic John
Goode (1990) writes in ‘Cultural Criticisms Within Thomas Hardy ‘s Tess of the
D’Urbervilles’ – “The two sources of power in the novel are gender and class.
Tess is finally made into a woman by violation and into a field woman by
economic oppression”. Here, Goode suggests the unjust nature of Tess’s
misfortune based not only on her gender, but her underclass position. This
reinforces the point that contextually, females were the most socially inferior
within the patriarchy, and Tess’ demise was inevitable based on her situation.

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The most prevalent issue
present in both texts is the double standards enforced by society between men
and women. This hypocrisy is highlighted by Hardy through the confessions that
Angel and Tess reveal post marriage. Here, Angel admits to Tess he has
committed a sin, which in the eyes of a modern audience is equal to Tess’s.
Tess forgives Angel immediately, yet due to Tess being a woman, Angel refused
to forgive her sin and in turn, left Tess. Hardy relates this in the text when
Angel simply calls his own sin a ‘folly’. Angel is trivialising his sin, suggesting
that it isn’t of relevance and shouldn’t be taken notice of. This immediately
reflects not only Angel’s attitude to his own sin, to which he feels he hasn’t
completely done much wrong, but this additionally reflects how the Victorian
society will view Angel’s sin. For men to have relations with women outside of
marriage was more accepted socially, men were in power and were not shunned for
engaging in this kind of activity out of wedlock. However, young Tess would
receive the opposite treatment from society, and more than likely shunned by
her community, which is reflected by the way in which Angel, reacts to her sin.
It is apparent here that Angel falls victim to complying with societies
idealistic expectations of women, which would have been heavily influenced by
Christianity in Victorian England – women must remain a “pure, virgin woman”.
This attitude however is contradictory to what the bible teaches the Lord ‘s
Prayer gives readers a subtle reminded that Christianity is all about
forgiveness and wants to remind the Victorian reader of the true moral values
of Christianity. Up until this point in the novel, Angel refuses to see Tess
for her flaws and continues to picture her as an idealised version of herself,
calling her names such as ‘Artemis’ the goddess of chastity. This however is
ironic as Artemis was the also the god of childbirth and fertility, yet this
idea is rejected by Angel and he focuses on the idealistic notion of a woman
remaining pure and chaste. The irony of the Bible being the cause of man’s
downfall is clear here. Tess realises Angel is creating this image of herself
and retaliates when she says to Angel ‘She who you love is not my real self’.

 

When Angel and Tess meet,
Hardy makes a Biblical allusion when he compares Angel and Tess to Adam and
Eve, which foreshadowed how fun is inevitable where a woman is to blame, when
he says ‘as if they were Adam and Eve’. This simile could be Hardy be
insinuating how Angel and Tess, like Adam and Eve were created by God to be
together, which presents a sense of hope for the pair. However, in the story of
Adam and Eve, Eve will eventually convince Adam to sin. This again relates back
to the illusion that throughout history, it will always be the woman at fault
in the relationship, which the Victorian high power men and women of society
believe, which creates a definite sense of double standards created here, as
there is a presumption women cannot be given a position of power like men can.
In this passage, Tess is also referred to by Hardy as ‘Mary Magdalene’ who was
a reformed prostitute and accepted by the Lord. This could be implemented by
Hardy to introduce the idea of forgiveness and acceptance of women in society,
as although Mary Magdalene had sinned, she was forgiven and accepted for whom
she is. A social feminist critic would view the male characters in this novel as
misogynistic, and this self-entitled hubris is backed up by the patriarchal
nature and social constructs of society. For example, Angel is arrogant because
he imposes this idea of womanhood on Tess, that purity and chastity is the most
desirable and important thing for young woman to have. This is juxtaposed when
he finds out about Tess’s sin, when he says the woman he has loved is “Another
woman in your shape”. This highlights his hubris and how he has created an
idealised version of Tess that is not her.

 

This idea of Angel’s
ignorance began upon his first ever meeting with Tess. In this part of the
novel, Tess must move through hedges and weeds to make her way to Angel. This
is seen when she was ‘staining her hands with thistle-milk and slug-slime’.
This ‘staining’ could be interpreted as metaphorical ‘staining’ as Tess has
been through a lot before meeting angel, including being tainted by Alec D’Urberville.
However, Angel refuses to see Tess’s ‘staining’ and sees an idyllic version of Tess
from the outset. This is foreboding as to how Angel’s ignorance will create tragedy
between the pair later in the novel.

 

This male domination over
women reaches its peak when Alec rapes Tess. This is a true symbol of the
little to no power women had, shown through Tess’s vulnerability. Alec proves
this when after attempting to persuade Tess to sleep with him, he ‘settled the
matter by clasping his arm around here as he desired’. Not only is he
physically entrapping her through clasping his arm around her, but he
establishes his power he ‘settles the matter’ ‘as he desired’, this is
significant as to how men took control over women of the time and easily
dominated inferior females. This male domination over women is also reflected
in the sub characters of the novel. When Angel announces his love for Tess, Tess’s
female friends Retty and Marian are both heartbroken. Results in ‘poor
little Retty Priddle hev tried to drown herself’ and Marian becoming an
alcoholic. This signifies the sheer dependence that woman of the era had
towards dominant male characters.

 

 

 

The theme of double
standards between men and women is also explored in A Thousand Splendid Suns by
Khaled Hosseini. This notion is introduced early in the novel when Nana warns
Mariam of the double standard hypocrisy when she says “Like a compass needle
that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman.” In
reference to this quote, Alan Marshall writes for the Telegraph in his critical
review ‘The world through a mesh’ –

 “You don’t need to be a feminist to understand
that women are always at the sharp end of repression.” This reflects the views
of Hosseini on this issue and relates to how women are treated. The double
standard between men are women are raised here as no matter whom is at fault,
as nana said, a man’s accusing finger will always find a woman. This
additionally foreshadows how Rasheed will take on this dominant role with
Mariam in the future, and causes dramatic tension within the novel.

 

The key form of male
domination over women present in the Afghani society highlighted in A Thousand
Splendid Suns is the arranged marriage in Chapter Eight. Mariam’s marriage to
Rasheed was arranged by a male who she wrongly trusted, Jalil, to marry, a man
she had never met against her will. However, society’s strict standards of the
attitude and propriety of women meant that Mariam was silenced. This treatment
was not the same for men, sons would always be partnered with a suitor of their
choice, and enforces the notion that marriage was not for love but for social
satisfaction and image. Additionally, Mariam discovers that Rasheed possesses
magazines featuring indecent images of women. This is shocking to Mariam as
Rasheed preaches the expectations that women should remain pure yet he himself
is impure through his objectification of women through the pornography. The
idea of forced marriages continues in Tess of D’Urbervilles through Tess’s
controversial marriages. Tess feels heavily inclined to marry both Angel due to
his persistence and declarations of love, showering her in idealistic
compliments and treating her like a goddess.   Then in
another way, Tess feels like she must marry Alec due to her poor economic
situation and his seducing prospect of money. This is reinforced by her own
mother, when she arrives home, carrying Alec’s child, and her mother is
horrified to find out Tess has not accepted to marry Alec. She states ‘Why
didn’t ye think of doing some good for your family instead o’ thinking only of
yourself?’. This highlights how a woman was not expected to do anything for
self-gain or whatever they wished, but to serve men, their superiors. Tess’s
mother wanting her to sacrifice her happiness and marry someone she does not
love proves that a woman’s position in society was more important than true
happiness.

 

The oppression of women is
apparent in the Afghanistan society through the extremist rules and regulations
set out in society for woman to remain in order. From the very first
introduction of Mariam in the novel, she recalls her Nana being named a ‘harami’
or bastard by her superior male, Jalil, for simply breaking piece of a tea set.
It is immediately made apparent by Hosseini through this how women are treated
not only with an unjust disrespect, but shamed for being inferior to their male
counterparts. This sets a precedent for the theme of shame throughout A
Thousand Splendid Suns, with the use of ‘harami’ being less of a cast off
derogatory comment but a standpoint for how women are viewed in the eye of
Afghani society, low status and undeserving of high levels respect.

 

Public expectations of
female propriety are prevalent in the expectations of women within these novels.
This is clear when it is stated “they want us to operate in burqa,”  A
burqa is an outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions for the
purpose of hiding a female’s body when out in public. This reference is a clear
condemnation of Afghanistan’s extreme social regulations by Hosseini as the
burqa is a symbol of imprisonment for Mariam. Another example of the unjust
nature of the expectation of women in society is Jalil’s many legitimate wives.
These wives reinforce the obscene cultural expectations and how the women are
expected to be comfortable ‘sharing’ a male partner with other women. Due to
their lower position in the patriarchy, women are not given a voice in society,
yet women comply with these expectations and highlight the nature of an
anti-feminist character in the novel.

 

 

The issue of relationship
abuse is apparent throughout the both novels. Whereas Rasheed physical
dominance over Mariam and Laila is explicit, Angel uses more subtle, mental
dominance towards Tess. Rasheed physically abuses Mariam, in the most horrific
of ways, such as when he uses domestic violence towards Mariam, making her chew
pebbles for simply boiling rice too long. This is significant when he uses the
imperative command ‘Put. These. In your mouth.’ He also puts a complete abusive
hold over Mariam when she wants to escape Rasheed, when he says “You try
this again and I will find you…And, when I do, there isn’t a court in this
godforsaken country that will hold me accountable for what I will
do.”  It could be argued that Angel also abuses Tess without even
realising it, through being unrealistic in his expectations of Tess and forever
trying to maintain an idealized ‘child of nature’ version of Tess and does not
give her the respect of discovering who she really is, despite her attempts to reveal
her own truth. No overt domination yet continuing expectations of Tess that is
established by his status and Christian values established in his society.

 

 

Despite
the overwhelming presentation of male dominance in both novels, both Hardy and
Hosseini also offer moments of female empowerment at the very end of the texts.

The
first time any female empowerment comes into a Thousand Splendid Suns is when
the unlikely friendship of Laila and Mariam develops. Both women were unable to
settle their differences throughout the novel, yet there is a key turning point
for the pair, as although Rasheed’s dominance over the woman was intended by
him to pin the ladies against each other, the two women actually came together
and formed a friendship. Hosseini presents the power of the feminine likeness
that males in this novel did not possess. Through the exchange of peace
offerings, Laila and Mariam are able to come to a new understanding. Mariam’s
gift of girl clothes shows Laila that she no longer resents Laila and Aziza’s
presence. Laila returns the favour by suggesting they ‘drink chai on the porch’.
These exchanges are symbols for the change in their relationship. Their
alienation from Rasheed no longer pits them against each other but unites them.
They seal their friendship when the two ‘sinners have us a cup of chai in the
yard’. They put this friendship to the test when they unite to try and escape
Rasheed’s dominance. When this fails, Mariam and Laila successfully murder
Rasheed by hitting him with a shovel. This finalises the juxtaposition between
the beginning of the novel and the female empowerment present at the end. It is
proof of the women coming together to stand up to violence and reject the
domination of their abusive male.

 

The
final theme of female empowerment is present in Tess of D’Urbervilles. In the
beginning of the novel, Tess could be considered noble to take on the ‘adult
role’ at the fault of her father or superior male, when he gets too drunk to go
to work. The dispossession of country people was a common occurrence and forced
young women like Tess into work.  Additionally, Tess fails to react to her
mother’s imposition that she must marry Alec even though he raped her. Here,
she has stood up for her own morals and self-beliefs by refusing to conform to
the social idealisations of the Victorian society. Finally, at the very end of
the novel, like Laila and Mariam, Tess retaliates to her ongoing oppression and
abuse by her superior male by stabbing Alec in the chest. This is the ultimate
moment of female empowerment within the novel and is a true representation of
how relentless abuse can lead to female empowerment. Across
these two endings, the accepted pattern of submissive women giving in to
dominant men is interrupted, and Tess’s act in the eyes of Hardy is heroic.

 

In conclusion, throughout both novels that both
follow a very similar standpoint on the hypocrisy and double standards of
women, both novels follow a redeeming ending for the female protagonists.
However, it can be argued in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, she inevitably was
caught and executed for her murder, by males. This can be viewed as a final act
of male dominance over women, yet alternatively Tess retaliated against the
domination and tragedy she endured through murdering Alec, her rapist. The pleasant
ending for Mariam and Laila and their unlikely yet blossoming friendship leaves
readers with a sense of redemption, alike the women featured in the novel, and
the aim to inform both modern and past audiences of the gender imbalance had
safely been achieved by both Hardy and Hosseini.