Laila’s Character Development
When Laila is introduced at the beginning of part two, the reader recognises that she represents the new, modern ideals that stem from the communist revolution in 1979. From being called ‘Revolutionary girl’ by her teacher, due to her being born on the same day as the revolution, as well as having physical attributes such as her ‘green eyes’ and ‘blonde curls’, it is instantly clear that the author is portraying Laila as someone who is unique or special in terms of the context. This extends to both her educational achievement as well as her families socially progressive views on woman’s rights. However, the instability surrounding Afghanistan’s politics is shown to immerse her uniqueness and force her to grow up faster than she is expected to. Over the course of the novel, the surrounding conflict forces her to develop certain ideas, which are showcased through her moments of skepticism towards authority and her headstrong personality. The ways in which she grows up to adopt these attitudes all originate from her uniqueness; her families’ values, her academic performance and the close relationships she has with other characters.
The death of Ahmed and Noor happens near the beginning of Laila’s story and is the first death in her family. Their absence in the novel, but the continuous discussion of them in Laila’s household introduces the reader to the strong connection Afghan families have to their country. The death of both these characters symbolizes the idea of sacrificing yourself for something you believe in. The families’ misery and grief that plagues them after the boy’s death recounts how the effects of death spread far beyond just the character that dies. This idea is introduced continually throughout Laila’s life as the people around her begin to die. Laila’s reaction to her brothers’ death can therefore foreshadow how she reacts to people that die. For Laila, it is hard to ‘summon sorrow’ for her brothers as, for her, they are like ‘characters in a fable.’ Although one may interpret Laila’s attitudes towards their deaths as one of disrespect, it is perhaps more of regretful indifference. By using the metaphor of a ‘fable’, Hosseini is both reminding the reader about Laila’s young age, through the childlike connotations associated with a fable, as well as, emphasizing how Laila can’t mourn people she never knew. The author juxtaposes these ideas of childhood and innocence with ones of death and experience to perhaps show how Laila is in a transitioning period from a child to an adult. Ahmed and Noor’s death symbolizes the infiltration of Afghan politics into the personal lives of the characters, suggesting that Laila is being forced to grow up due to the death and conflict caused by the context. The macro-level political change along with the micro-level character interaction, shows how the death of political figureheads, this being Ahmed and Noor, forces characters to mature much more quickly.
Other familial relationships are also shown to have an effect on the rate at which Laila grows up, specifically, the relationship she has with her mother. Fariba is introduced as a young and vibrant woman from Mariam’s perspective in part one, who loves her husband and kids and generally has a positive outlook on life. However, after her sons go to fight for the Mujahedeen, she becomes withdrawn and grieves over them. Her depression over her sons’ fates blinds her to what is happening to her daughter, who is still living with her. This leaves Laila feeling unwanted and uncared for, resulting in her realizing that her ‘footprints would forever wash away beneath the waves of sorrow that swelled and crashed’. This metaphor, used to display the idea of varying emotions, links to wider themes of motherhood that continue throughout the novel. Hosseini displays the difficulties that mothers have to face in order to raise a child, especially within this context. Although one may assume that Fariba is an inadequate parent due to the treatment of Laila, it could be argued that the grief she feels in regards to her sons’ death is evidence of the love she has for her children. Similarly to Nana, by not being present or aware of Laila for a large portion of her life, it could be argued that she taught Laila about the importance of endurance and resilience. By not being present around the house, Laila is forced to undertake the tasks and emotional relationships, which mothers are usually burdened with, at a young age. It also means that Laila recognizes the importance of childcare, which presents itself later in the novel when she has children of her own. Therefore, one may claim that the relationship Laila has with her mother gives Laila independence along with an idea about the difficulties of motherhood, when she is still a young girl.
The very reason that Laila is a woman in a society where women are restricted by men and law, is in and of itself, an explanation for why she has to grow up so quickly. The rights of women, in regard to education, are limited by men in the patriarchal context. Laila, however, is unique and her academic ability is what gives the reader hope in her character. Her father, Babi’s, emphasis on Laila having an education provides the base of her personality. By being educated, Laila is empowering herself and increasing the opportunities that she can access later in life. Babi’s belief in education is so extreme that he lectures to Laila “A society has no chance at success if its woman are uneducated, Laila. No chance.” Education and academics are seen as hope for women in Afghanistan as it gives them a platform to defend themselves. This is evident when Laila questions Rasheed about his contradictory political views, after they are married. It is also an explanation as to why Laila teaches at an orphanage by the end of the novel. Laila embodies the hope in society towards female education and allows her to be wiser than the people around her. This wisdom that she gains through education, both gives her voice experience as well as justifies the difficult decisions a young girl has to make.
Laila grows up in multiple ways that usually relate back to the characters that surround her and the context in which she is placed. Through the death of characters like Ahmed and Noor, Laila learns how to overcome the grief caused by death, giving her the resilience she needs in order to deal with the common tragedies that occur in Afghanistan. Fariba’s absence in Laila’s childhood further prepares her for the independence she will have to face once her parents have died. It also is what allows her to provide as a mother for her children near the end of the novel. Finally, the education that Laila receives both motivates her as a woman in a patriarchal society, where many women are uneducated, and gives her a platform to argue and make decisions. In part two, the different tragedies that Laila faces gives her the independence, endurance and wisdom she needs to survive and allows the reader to compare how Laila’s character has developed over the novel.
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