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Symbolism of Birds in A Thousand Splendid Suns Essay


Let the Birds Fly Free

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini tells the story of an Afghani woman, Mariam, who lived to experience the history of Afghanistan from before the Soviet War until after the Taliban rule. Windows and Mirrors- Reflections on the War in Afghanistan, is a collection of 45 murals, sponsored by American Friends Service Committee, drawn and painted by U.S. and international artists and collection of drawings by Afghan youth. These paintings strongly express the old time saying, a picture is worth a thousand words. A significant symbol that appeared frequently in the book and paintings were birds. Since ancient times, because of the birds connection to the sky, they have been thought of as a supernatural link between the heavens and the earth. Hosseini and these painters were able to take one symbol and make a masterpiece silently speak to its audience while tying in relations to the Afghanistan War and the Taliban takeover.

Birds have always had a significant meaning in many cultures in many ways. Middle Eastern and Asian cultures often speak of birds assymbolsof immortality. In East Indian myth, every bird in the world represents adeparted soul, and in Christian art, birds often appear as saved souls. Hosseini uses many birds as examples in A Thousand Splendid Suns, but one bird significantly stood out. Outside, mockingbirds were singing blithely, and, once in a while, when the songsters took flight, Mariam could see their wings catching the phosphorescent blue moonlight beaming through the clouds, (Hosseini 244). A mockingbird stands out in this one particular part of the book because it symbolizes the one thing that Mariam wants more than anything, freedom. The mockingbird is a bird that does what its name says, it mocks other birds. In this scene, Mariam observes the bird as it copies other sounds and flies into the clouds, where it is free from the horrible land that Mariam is living. Similarly, the mockingbird can also symbolize other birds that relate life.

The paintings shown at the Windows and Mirrors- Reflection on the War in Afghanistan exhibit are painted on 4 foot by 6 foot canvases and are displayed on the walls of the Arch Street Meeting House. These "windows" on a war torn country also are "mirrors" reflecting our identity as a nation at war, ( One unexpected bird that was not featured in any of these paintings but constantly show up in the book is the parakeet. The parakeet is a beautiful, colorful, exotic bird, who loves to imitate what they hear. When the Taliban took over Kabul in A Thousand Splendid Suns, they set a list of rulers that the people must follow. One of these specific laws states, If you keep parakeets, you will be beaten. Your birds will be killed, (Hosseini 276). The Taliban prohibited any form of entertainment from flying kites, parakeets and even laughter for the people now living in the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. The Afghanis were limited to what they can and cannot do because of the new set of laws that the Taliban placed on their new land.

The first painting with any significance of a bird was painted by Claire-Helene Martin. She called her artwork Dove of the Future. Though the dove does not appear in A Thousand Splendid Suns, it reflects the lives of the Afghanis living suffering with the affects of the war in the book, and the current war. This piece of artwork was centered on a white dove falling to the ground after being shot. In the background, little sketches of peace signs, hearts, the flag of Afghanistan and more birds. The dying dove in this painting had such meaning. In different religions and areas of the world, the dove has different meanings. To the Hindus, doves are messengers, whereas the Chinese believe that the dove symbolizes long life. Globally, the Sacred Dove serves as a gentle reminder that there is always hope, new possibilities and miracles waiting, just around the corner.

The second painting by Abby Karish is called Always the Unintended Suffer. Hosseini tells a similar story related to the title of this painting. One day that same month of June, Giti was walking home from school with two classmates. Only three blocks from Gitis house, a stray rocket struck the girls later that terrible day, Laila learned that Nila, Gitis mother, had run up and down the street collecting pieces of her daughters flesh in an apron, screeching hysterically, (Hosseini 178). The thought of a mother collecting parts and pieces of her daughter scattered on the streets is morbid. This painting consists of four birds, two blue ones and two brown ones. The one brown bird is picking up one of the nine dead bodies and carrying it up in the air with its beak. The unintended in this painting are the innocent people of Afghanistan. Like Giti, those who died were innocent bystanders who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

The birds in this painting were hard to distinguish, but they somewhat resemble crows. In the old world, The Celts believed that Crow was an omen of death and conflict. (Stefko). The crows in the painting were carrying dead bodies from the sea and taking them into the air. The relation between Karishs Always the Unintended Suffer and Hosseinis A Thousand Splendid Suns is that there is a lot of unexpected and accidental deaths occurring in Afghanistan during the times of these wars. Innocent people were being killed in the streets and there were and still are nothing they can do to prevent it. When Laila returns to the kolba where Mariam lived during this time, she sees a crow. Before she leaves the clearing, Laila takes one last look at the kolba where Mariam had slept, eaten, dreamed, held her breath for Jalil A crow has landed on the flat roof. It pecks at something, squawks, flies off, (Hosseini 402). This crow represented Mariam, and her death. Once Laila saw the crow fly off, she says her final goodbye to Mariam and begins to weep.

The last painting was painted by Patricia Sotarello and the AFSC Chicago Summer Institute Students. This painting is very colorful and involves four people in it, two men, one praying, and two women, both wearing burqa. Peace and Future for Afghanistan is the perfect title for this painting. Once again, a dove appears in this one. The dove is flying overhead of the four people below and is flying towards the sun, in which a peace sign was painted within it. The dove in this painting fits perfectly into what the people of the painting are doing. The man in the center is praying for what is probably for peace and a better future for his country. Throughout the book, all that the people of Afghanistan wanted was to get their country back to the way it was, before the Taliban took over. With the current War, that is all everyone wants. Everyone wants the war to end and everyone wants world peace. This single dove in the painting signifies the single wish that everyone wanted.

During hard times, people get through things differently than others. There are those who write beautiful music and those who create masterpieces through art. Khaled Hosseinis A Thousand Splendid Suns greatly tells the lives of the Afghanis from the beginning of the Soviet War until the end of the Taliban rule. The exhibit for Windows and Mirrors- Reflections on the War in Afghanistan did the same thing but through paintings. And through these paintings, one can see that all freedom is wanted, and death is not. A simple symbol such as a bird can mean so much in one painting therefore, making a picture worth a thousand words.

Works Cited

Hosseini, Khaled.A Thousand Splendid Suns. New York: Riverhead, 2007. Print.

Stefko, Jill. "Crow, Mysterious Pagan Symbol: Sign of Law, Creation, Magick, Prophecy, Cunning and Trickery." Online Magazine and Writers' Network. 08 May 2007. Web. 02 Nov. 2010. < symbol-a20797>.

"Windows and Mirrors | American Friends Service Committee."American Friends Service Committee | Quaker Values in Action. Web. 02 Nov. 2010. <>.

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