To begin, Hosseini espouses the concept of legitimacy as it is opposed to illegitimacy to explore the similarities and difference between his main female characters: Mariam and Laila. The novel begins with Mariam’s story, specifically a story of “an heirloom-breaking, clumsy little harami” girl living in a society that condemns illegitimate children (Hosseini 4). From this point forward, Mariam’s plight as hapless ensues. As she shatters her mother’s family heirloom, a relic “meant to ward off evil” it signifies a dissolution of protection for Mariam (Hosseini 3), meaning that she will face this predisposition to exclusion and social ridicule for the remainder of her life, and these hardships are what ultimately engender her ability to cope. Connotatively, the strong negative associations with the word “harami” mimic how society treats people of this status (Hosseini 3), as the novel progresses, Mariam desires redemption over her stigma. Whereas, Hosseini posits Laila into a legitimate family with progressive parents (108). Laila has loving, caring relationship with her parents (109). She has healthy friendships and understands her self-worth (127). Laila feels this sense of belonging since birth because of her legitimacy, thus this displays no predisposition to misfortune. Therefore, Hosseini’s exemplifies that one’s parturition does not necessarily predispose a person to hardships—it can strike anyone. Although, in this instance society shackles women to an oppressive chain, from which, they are unable to escape. The disparity between Mariam and Laila’s status construes Mariam’s feeling of constant displacement in her own skin. This juxtaposition paves the way for the trials the women will endure throughout the novel. Mariam endures more than Laila utterly due to her illegitimacy, and with greater trials she overcomes, growing thicker-skinned. However, both women are propelled into adulthood at young age because of adversity; thus, Hosseini argues that the resilience of women, as they are suppressed with hardships because both women become strong forces of feminine power. To continue, as the novel progresses, the paths of the two women intertwine, as they live with Rasheed (Hosseini 199). While dining one night Rasheed inquires,
“…Have you told her, have you told her that you are a harami? Well, she is. But she is not without qualities, all things considered. You will see for yourself, Laila jan. She is sturdy, for one thing, a good worker and without pretensions. I’ll say it this way: If she were a car she’d be a Volga” (222).
Metaphorically, by comparing Mariam’s illegitimacy and other characteristics to that of a Volga, a commonplace automobile, it displays how little value Mariam contains in an oppressive, class-driven society. The “sturdiness” of the Volga exhibits the trials Mariam has endured throughout her life, yet she never once, metaphorically, breaks down (Hosseini 222). It exemplifies that societal beliefs often deter people from progressing. Conversely, Rasheed deems Laila “a brand new Mercedes,” a car of high value and maintenance (Hosseini 222). Laila’s legitimacy already posits her at a higher value than Mariam, sheerly due to her parturition. This line foreshadows Laila’s disobedience, as Rasheed will eventually discipline her more than Mariam, essentially “taking certain… cares” to maintain her servility (Hosseini 222). Through Rasheed’s malicious tone and juxtaposition, Hosseini comments on the treatment of women behind closed doors in terms of emotional abuse that the characters ultimately endure. This illuminates the power it takes to persist through hardships in times of oppression. Moreover, in her last moments Mariam ponders the trials throughout her life—to her, death “was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings,” illuminating an overarching and inherent juxtaposition (370). In fact, Samina Akhtar, in her work published by a prestigious research institute called the Canadian Center of Science and Education, claims that “through feminist perspective, one can judge Mariam’s murder of Rasheed as an act in which she digs herself out of the gender oppression that troubles her throughout her life;” however, through a different perspective, it could exemplify an act of rebellion (Akhtar et. al), rebellion towards her parents, rebellion towards God, and most importantly an internal rebellion, as Mariam finally overcomes the obstacles stagnating her. Her harami-status fades and soon a woman who heralds nothing becomes a symbol of tenacity. Additionally, when Mariam’s life ends, one could claim Laila’s truly begins, as she is provided with the ability to flee to Pakistan, build an orphanage, and start a new life for herself. The juxtaposition at hand serves to display a similarity. By juxtaposing both women through life and death Hosseini parallels them as women in constricting, patriarchal society. They, in essence, rid themselves of the major barriers, which displays their strength when confronted with oppression and hardships.