Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Tea appears several times throughout the novel as a way to offer the characters small moments of respite from the troubles of their lives. While serving and drinking tea is a social custom throughout the Middle East, tea as it is used in the novel serves a multifaceted purpose. It is used as a way to connect the characters. For example, Nana serves Jalil and Mariam tea when he comes for his weekly visit. Even though Nana despises Jalil, she is able to offer him this little pleasantry, coupled with good behavior on her part. A turning point in Mariam and Laila’s relationship happens over five shared cups of chai tea spread over an evening. They engage in a long discussion over the tea, which mends their tense relationship and brings them closer together. The scenes with tea are often the calmest in a novel rife with violent imagery.
Poetry is a significant indicator of beauty and gentleness in the novel. The title, A Thousand Splendid Suns, comes from a poem, Kabul, by Saib-e-Tabrizi, translated by Josephine Davis. Part of this poem appears in the text in Chapter 26, where Babi laments having to leave Kabul. While this is the most impactful use of the motif as it uses the novel’s title, poetry describes and lends beauty to Afghanistan in other ways. For example, Jalil describes Herat as a city of poets, even pointing out a pistachio tree where a great poet is supposedly buried. This tender thread follows the characters throughout their lives. Laila’s life is punctuated by poetry, which indicates her and her father’s love of education. Although it is presented as an insult, when Rasheed compares Laila and Tariq to a couple in a famous poem, he is unknowingly imbuing their relationship with the beauty of poetry. The beautiful words of poetry serve as a contrast to the often stark depictions of war that appear in the novel.
Fantasies and Dreams
Throughout the novel, characters often find themselves daydreaming and creating fantasies in their heads to escape their cruel realities. This fantasizing occurs not only when violence grips Afghanistan, but also when their relationships are tense. For example, Mariam fantasizes about moving into her father’s luxurious home when she finds it difficult to live with her abrasive and unforgiving mother. Laila daydreams about Tariq until they are reunited in Part Three. When she is a child, her fantasies are evidence of her burgeoning crush. As the story progresses, they become a necessary form of escapism, which keeps her hopeful about the future. The author also uses this motif to point out when something is important to the characters. This is exemplified when, at the novel’s conclusion, Aziza and Laila have nightmares and dreams about their traumatic experiences and of Mariam, respectively. These fantasies and dreams offer not only a link to the characters’ desires, but they also evolve into reminders of their pasts.