"She understood then what Nana meant, that a harami was an unwanted thing; that she, Mariam, was an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance."

Mariam’s identity as the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy businessman shapes the way in which she views her place in the world, both as a child as an adult. She initially refuses to believe that her father, Jalil, would push her out of his life, but her arranged marriage to Rasheed and departure from Herat convinces her that she does not truly belong anywhere. With this isolating feeling at the back of her mind, Mariam struggles to meaningfully connect with others in adulthood as she believes that she is unworthy of love and respect.

"The strange thing was, the girl's fall from grace ought to have pleased Mariam, brought her a sense of vindication. But it didn't. It didn't. To her own surprise, Mariam found herself pitying the girl." 

As Mariam watches Laila raise her baby, she notices that Rasheed no longer treats his young wife with the superficial kindness and respect he once did. The fact that Mariam sympathizes with her despite the tension that exists between them suggests that, deep down, she recognizes her own isolating struggles in Laila’s experience. This gradual acknowledgement of the suffering they both endure as Afghani women lays the groundwork for the supportive relationship that ultimately emerges between them. 

"And so Mariam raised the shovel high, raised it as high as she could, arching it so it touched the small off her back. She turned it so the sharp edge was vertical, and, as she did, it occurred to her that this was the first time that she was deciding the course of her own life. And, with that, Mariam brought down the shovel. This time, she gave it everything she had." 

After spending her entire adult life submitting to Rasheed’s violent tendencies, Mariam’s love for Laila drives her to take matters into her own hands and causes her to kill their husband. The bond between them empowers Mariam as it enables her to believe that she deserves to live a meaningful life, regardless of her past. This moment serves as a major turning point in her character development, highlights the perseverance of her internal strength, and ultimately sets the course for the remainder of her life.