where one finds their honour

When a character like Mariam is brought to life, I find it harder to say that I relate well to Mariam simply because I live a much more privileged life than the one that she lived. I don’t fear for war every day, I have freedom, and ever since I was born, I have been surrounded by loved ones who are always there for me. It is in these situations in analyzing a text where one needs to discover the human condition: the underlying aspects and truths that compose every person. I found a theme created through the human condition within Mariam – honour. I have defined honour as respect: an honourable man will hold dignity because he has made respectable actions.

Mariam grew up having her honour decided by the people around her. It was not her actions that dictated her honour but rather the ones that created her. She was born out of wedlock. She was a harami-a bastard child. How could Mariam possibly be honourable if, at the time, she was the product of one of the least honourable actions one could make? “ She understood then what Nana meant that harami was an unwanted thing: that she, Mariam, was an illegitimate person who would never have a legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home and acceptance.”

A woman without honour meant a woman unwanted. That was her reality. Mariam realized this at a very young age, and I believe that, therefore, she strives to find situations where she could be away from her reality and live within an illusion of false hope. She latched herself onto Jalil- a father who visited her often and treated her with respect as if she was an honourable human. She felt that he saw her beauty and truth when no one else did. She failed to realize, however, that Jalil was the epitome of an illusion; a wealthy man who feared the loss of his reputation over the loss of his child. There is an apparent contrast between the Utopian dream of her father and the harsh reality of her mother. The only similarity between these two situations is the fact that either way, Mariam’s honour was going to be decided externally by whomever she chose.

She chose to run after false hope, ultimately seeing through the illusion as she realizes the truth behind her father as he refuses to take her in and leaves her on his doorstep. After her fantasy fails, she runs home towards the symbol of her reality- her mother, which also fails as she comes back to find her mother dead. I believe that when Mariam was trying to establish the certainty of her honour, she failed because she depended on either her father or her mother to determine her honour for her. Later in the novel with Rasheed, we see her fail to restore her honour as she wears a burqa as a fake symbol of Rasheed’s love and protection. However, she remains unsuccessful as she is unable to have a child and continues to suffer in her abuse.

Mariam finally establishes her sense of honour when she kills Rasheed. In her circumstances, the most honourable thing to do for herself and Laila was to get out of their abusive relationship, and the only way she could’ve done that is by killing Rasheed. In that exact moment, not only was she leaving him, but she was saving Laila’s life, and arguably her own as well. To an outside eye, killing someone else may seem to be the least honourable thing someone could do, yet after this incident, Mariam never seeks honour the same way she did before. This is because she has already established that honour within herself. She allowed herself to restore her reputation rather than those around her.

Throughout the timeline of Mariam’s life, we see her continually trying to restore her honour, her honour that she was deprived of the day she was born out of wedlock. Each time, however, she fails because she places the decision of her honour in the hands of other people. It is only when she can decide that she has done something honourable, will she be able to achieve it, and be sure of it.

Again, I feel the need to reiterate the fact that I currently live a much better life than Mariam ever did before I say that I see pieces of Mariam within myself. Being both Chinese and Dutch, I find it difficult to uphold the standards of honour within each culture. Many Chinese grandparents I meet already have a predetermined idea of my honour based on the fact that I was born half white. I often find myself working each day to fit into the standards of society around me; to be “honourable” in their eyes. In my family culture, success and honour are shaped by one’s intelligence. There is an absolute and unsaid standard in my lifestyle that a particular grade needs to be maintained. Every day as I studied and worked hard, wondering why I could never please the people around me, I failed to see that in their eyes, I would never be able to reach that standard, simply because I was mixed. I didn’t have the “full potential” someone who grew up with strict and fast-paced learning in China. Since then, I have grown and realized that honour needs to be established within to be accurate and guaranteed. I have no control over anything except my view of who I am, my work ethic, and my reactions. Why was I leaving the decision of how honourable I was in the hands of people I didn’t even have certainty in? In my eyes, being honourable is having self-respect, dignity and a sense of worthiness. Being in the musical, or having a job is respectable to me because I am taking responsibility for my own life and participating in something that makes my soul happy. My extended family, however, may disagree because those activities distract me from my studies. I have learned that like Mariam, as long as I can establish honour within myself I will be just that – honourable.

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8 thoughts on “where one finds their honour

  1. Dear Petrina,
    Your writing is amazing. I love the way you organized your thoughts and ideas so cleverly in this piece. You did not lose the flow of the analysis with the addition of personal commentary in the introduction and conclusion. Your thoughts complemented rather than overshadowed the rest of your work.
    One thing I learned from you is the importance of cohesion. You already have brilliant ideas, but having the ability to connect them with carefully chosen words, is a skill that you mastered and applied well. I was able to understand the topic of honor about Mariam with increased depth and meaning.
    My favourite part, however, was your connection with personal privilege when trying to understand Mariam’s character. You emphasized the importance of understanding the human condition, rather than the actual events happening. I liked the line, “It is in these situations in analyzing a text where one needs to discover the human condition: the underlying aspects and truths that compose every person.” I feel that in AP, we sometimes become too obsessed with understanding the characters, and forget about their relation to us. It reminded me why we study literature in the first place.
    If you would like to enhance the quality of this piece, then consider having a say statement before you dive into the mean and matter. I have already read this book, so I knew which events you were referring to, but if you had at least one sentence describing the event that you were going to analyze, there would have been more clarity.
    This is the first piece of writing of yours that I have read, and it will not be my last. Your logical order of ideas, brilliant word choice, and the ability to connect yourself, Mariam, and the human condition together was amazing. I truly respect you as a writer and a brilliant peer in class.
    Looking forward to more writing from you!

    1. Dear Nazeefa,
      Your advice and wise words inspire me. I am so grateful for your insight and your comments empower my writing. I am really glad that you enjoyed this piece as I worked hard on it. The theme of honour really inspired me to write and I am happy to hear that my ideas were logically organized. I will definitely try to remember to include more context with my quotes as many of my readers may not have read the novel that I am using as evidence. Thank you for your lovely insights and comments. I am very thankful.


  2. Dear Petrina,

    Astounding! All I can really say about your piece is that it is utterly amazing. You organized your writing into paragraphs and even have the ideas flowing and connecting quite well. I really do appreciate the structure of your piece because it strengthens your essay by using evidence from prior paragraphs. Also, the idea is very unique and showcases your creativity. A specific part I really enjoyed in the piece was the personal relation you made to Mariam because it helped to support your understanding of your piece.

    Something to work on would be to perhaps add more depth into your work by adding the theme of certainty into the work. By adding that to your work, it would relate to the prompt we talked about it class, but also I feel that you could weave the two themes quite well – further strengthening your piece.

    All in all, I truly enjoyed reading – and editing 🙂 – this piece and I look forward to reading more of your work. I have great expectations :).


    1. Dear Zain,
      First of all, I would like to thank you for your kind words. Your writing is so compelling and organized that it warms my heart to see you say that you found my work organized. Structure is something I have been working on in my writing so it really helps to see it paying off. I’m glad to see that you enjoyed the personal aspect of my piece! I actually was inspired to write this because of the prompt your group presented in class, so I will definitely go more in-depth with the certainty Mariam deals with within her life. Thank you also for proofreading this haha 🙂

  3. Petrina,

    My best friend. And yes I am actually acknowledging that fact. You may be to lazy to comment on my post but I would like to one up you and comment on yours, just so you can feel bad. In all honesty, your piece was astounding. To explore honour in such depths was such a beautiful way to go with your writing. I loved how you discussed the initially, then, finally (this timeline of her entire life), followed by a personal connection. The introduction pulled me in right away as well. The themes of honour and reality sprinkled in this piece were well placed and the concrete explanation of them was very well done. Now, usually I have a lot to say to criticize you on everything else in your life because I love you but I do not want you to know that. I have read over this piece several times and I personally do not have anything that I believe needs improvement for this piece. I loved the flow, ideas, and clarity throughout. It kept me invested and fascinated with each word. I am blessed by your exemplary writing, by your creative thoughts, and by your magical soul. You and your sisters have become my lifelines, and I will love you eternally for that. Thank you.


    1. Alexis,

      It means so much for you to comment on my blog post. As much as I hate to admit it, your writing is incredible and it means so much for someone as talented as you to read and appreciate my writing. My heart is literally melting because you enjoyed this piece so much. I feel blessed to have my work read by you and will continue to look to you for inspiration in all aspects of my life, but especially writing. I love you forever and ever and ever.

  4. Dear Sister Petrina,
    The fact that you were able to write this right before musical crunch time is impressive.
    Your piece is simple yet effective you fully addressed the theme of honour with evidence from the life of Mariam.
    Something I think you could improve on is expanding your definition of honour and/or relating it in each paragraph so your work is cool and clear.
    As Zain said you did not really address certainty until your last paragraph. The disclaimer at the beginning was nice too and on a similar note as Nazeefa you did not overdo your personal connection to Mariam.
    Sincerely, IB.

    1. Dear IB,
      Your advice for my writing means so much as you simply just provide so much insight into each of your comments.
      I definitely agree with you – looking back on this essay I can see where I lack the inclusive of certainty when relating it with honour.
      I am very happy that my personal connection to Mariam, in the beginning, was received well, as it was very important to me that the readers understood that I was writing about how I relate to Mariam’s feelings- not her circumstances.

      Thank you so much,

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