Literary Devices In A Thousand Splendid Suns

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” is a heart wrenching tale of two Afghani women i.e. Mariam and Laila. The story is about their struggle in a war torn country. This exceptional work has authored by Khaled Hosseini. He has employed various literary devices in his work. These literary techniques include symbolism, similes, imagery etc. These devices bring their stories to life and highlight the injustice they face.

The novel contains powerful themes of pain, oppression and hope. These themes have been conveyed through a range of literary devices that enhance the narrative’s emotional impact. Following literary devices have been used in the novel: –

1- Symbolism

Symbolism is a literary device that Hosseini employs extensively in this novel. The pomegranate tree denotes the fertility, resilience and hope. Here, the ‘tree’ represents the cyclical nature of life, death and the endurance of the human spirit. Similarly, the ‘pebbles’ that Mariam collects throughout her life represent her suffering and pain which are both symbolized by the small stones. Here is a reference to the pomegranate tree from the book:

“The branches of the tree were weighed down with bright, juicy red pomegranates,”

The Kolba

The kolba is a shed-like structure, wherein Mariam lives in with her mother before she is married to Rasheed. It symbolizes shame and illegitimacy. Mariam’s father namely Jalil constructed the kolba to hide the existence of his illegitimate daughter Mariam. Here is the reference from the book:

“Mariam loved the kolba, even though simple it may be, it was the only home she had known,”


Mariam has a habit of collecting pebbles. These pebbles symbolize her sorrow, loneliness and the repression she experiences. Each pebble signifies a bittersweet memory, a slight or a moment of disappointment in her life. There is a piteous moment in the book that refers to the pebbles: –

“Like tiny, painful burdens, she picked up the pebbles from the river bank,”

While using these symbols, the writer subtly portrays the emotional landscapes of his characters. They also refer the oppressive sociopolitical realities they navigate. These symbols contribute to the depth of the novel and resonance, which make the novel a veritable masterpiece.

2- Imagery

The use of imagery in the novel is nothing short of breathtaking. The descriptions of the Afghan landscape are vivid and sensory, which evokes a powerful sense of place and culture. For example, when Mariam and Laila are forced to flee their home, this describes the dusty outlook as ‘a film of dirt that clung to their clothes, their skin‘. This imagery creates a powerful sense of displacement and hardship, which emphasizes the struggle of the character to survive in a war torn country. Here is how Hosseini describes imagery in the novel: –

“When sunrise came, the valley was paper white. The snow had stopped falling into the shapes of triangles and squares”.

Through this line, the writer gives readers a powerful visual prompt that helps them imagine the uniquely surreal and quiet beauty of the snowcovered Afghan valley.

3- Flashback

This literary technique has been employed in the novel to convey the backstories of the characters. It provides context for the actions of characters. The use of flashback enables the readers to understand the motivation and emotion of the character. It gives the historical and cultural context in which the story takes place. For example, the Mariam remembers her childhood and the relationship with her father. It enables the readers to look into the complex web of familial relationships that shape the life of Mariam. An example of a flashback occurs as Mariam harks back to her childhood with her mother, Nana:

“Mariam remembered Nana saying once that, each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all the sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke into tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below. So, it was not rain, Nana said, but the tears of women”

4- Stream of Consciousness

Hosseini utilizes this literary technique to convey the thoughts and emotions of the characters in a raw and unfiltered manner. This device permits the readers to experience the emotions and inner lives of the characters. It also creates a powerful sense of empathy and connection. For example, when Laila is reunited with her mother, Hosseini writes ‘Laila felt like she had been dropped into a well, into the darkness of a mother’s love’ This stream of consciousness passage conveys Laila’s emotional state with remarkable clarity, which highlights the deep bond between mother and daughter.

5- Alliteration

The writer uses the alliteration to create a musical quality in his writing. He describes the ‘tinkling of the wind chimes’ or the ‘summer sun’s splendid splendor. The river that runs through the novel has been described with a series of words that start with the ‘s’ sound creating a soothing effect. Here is the example of alliteration: –

“The sun scattered shades of silver and sapphire, and the river whispered secrets to the wind”

The repetition of the ‘s’ sound adds a sense of serenity and tranquility to the passage, which draws attention to the beauty of the river and its relationship with the natural world.

6- Personification

The writer personifies the Afghan countryside, which describes it as a living and breathing entity, that reacts to the actions of the characters. For example, he writes that the ‘dusty landscape seemed to yawn in protest’ as the characters flee their home. The mountain in the novel is personified as a protective barrier shielding the characters from the outside world:

“The mountain was a fortress, a shield that encircled them”

The use of the word ‘fortress’ and ‘shield’ emphasizes the protective role of mountain, which gives it a definitive human-like quality.

7- Metaphor

Hosseini uses metaphors to create vivid and evocative descriptions. He while using the metaphors compare the sound of the bullets to ‘a swarm of bees buzzing wildly’. Another example of metaphor can be observed in the following example: –

Paradise as a Refuge

The novel often depicts Afghanistan as a paradise. The writer has used metaphors to convey the sense of safety and belonging of the characters.

“Afghanistan was a nest, a cradle, a sanctuary”

The use of the word ‘nest’ and ‘cradle’ represents the safety and protection the characters feel in their homeland. The phrase ‘sanctuary’ suggests a sense of refuge and shelter.

8- Hyperbole

In the novel, the literary technique of hyperbole has been vividly used, which emphasizes the intensity of the emotions of the characters, such as when Mariam exclaims, ‘My heart raced like a wild stallion‘. Here are some examples of hyperbole in the novel: –

Mariam’s Sorrow

The writer uses hyperbole to convey the depth of Mariam’s suffering: –

“Mariam’s heart was a hollowed-out vessel, empty of joy, filled with sorrow”

The use of the word ‘hollowed-out’ and ’empty’ underscores the idea that Mariam’s sorrow is all-consuming and has drained her of her emotional resilience.

Laila’s Beauty

Hosseini exaggerates Laila’s beauty to highlight her appealing qualities: –

“Laila was a sunflower in full bloom, her beauty radiating like a beacon”

The use of the word ‘beacon’ emphasizes Laila’s striking appearance and the impact it has on those around her.

9- Onomatopoeia

In the novel, the onomatopoeia has been used to create vivid and sensory descriptions. He describes the sound of the bombs as ‘whump, whump, whump’. This literary technique has been employed throughout the novel to express the sounds of Afghanistan and the reactions of the characters. It adds layers of audio and sensory details to the narrative. Here are some examples of onomatopoeia in the novel:

The Sound of Sorrow

Here the writer uses onomatopoeia to convey the weeping sound of Mariam:

“Mariam’s sobs reverberated like rifle shots in the night”

The use of the word ‘reverberated’ creates a sense of the sound of Mariam’s weeping echoing through the night.

10- Repetition

Hosseini has repeated the certain words and phrases to create a sense of rhythm. These repetition of words emphasize certain themes. For example, he repeats the word ‘home’ throughout the novel to point out Mariam and Laila’s longing for a place of safety and belonging. Below are some examples of repetition from the literary book: –

Tariq’s Affections for Laila

Tariq’s tender sentiment for Laila has been repeatedly expressed with the phrase ‘you’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen’. The repetition of this phrase highlights the deep affection Tariq holds for Laila which persists despite the adversities they face.

Mariam’s Personal Mantra

Throughout the novel, Mariam often internalizes the affirmation ‘I will endure it‘. The repetition of this mantra echoes Mariam’s resilience and enduring spirit in the face of hardship and suffering.

11- Formulaic language

The writer uses the formulaic language to create a sense of familiarity and comfort particularly in the dialogue of the characters. For example, when Mariam speaks to Laila, she often uses phrases such as ‘my dear’ or ‘your son’.

12- Synecdoche

The literary technique of Synecdoche has been utilized in the novel to create vivid and evocative descriptions. For example, when he describes the ‘citadel of the river’ and the ‘Peace Bridge’. Khaled Hosseini effectively uses synecdoche to depict the devastation of city during the war: –

“The streets of Kabul, once full of life, were now nothing but rubble and dust”.

The use of ‘streets’ represents the entire city of Kabul illustrating the profound and systemic destruction inflicted upon the city during the war.

13- Irony

Hosseini uses irony to highlight the contradictions and injustices of the characters’ lives. For example, the irony is stark when Rasheed prays to Allah to guide him in his dealings with his wives. Rasheed’s prayer is a reminder of the power dynamics at play in the novel highlighting the ways in which religion can be used to justify oppression.

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