In the novels, All American Boys, a Thousand Splendid Suns, and Zeitoun, the central protagonists make major decisions that set themselves in opposition to the expectations of society, family and friends. These experiences change the character and it is well known the most solid way to learn something is by experiencing it. When people see something they don’t like in a system only a few outside experiences could create distance or rejection from their family, friends or even society.
What seems like a small declaration of individuality can have unexpected and significant effects. For example, in All American Boys when Quinn comes to school in a shirt that says, “I’M MARCHING, ARE YOU?”, and in A Thousand Splendid Suns when Mariam does not listen to her mother and goes to the mansion of her father. Finally, in Zeitoun when even though Zeitoun gets warnings from his wife, children, brother, and family to evacuate he decides to not evacuate as most people are. The choices of these characters create a new path, in direct opposition to expectations.
In Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely’s All American Boys, the character Quinn Collins is unsure of what to do in his situation while his family is urging him to testify against the injustice of Rashad, who was a victim of police brutality based on his race. Ironically, his close family friend Paul Galluzzo who was like a father figure to him, was the officer who perpetrated the beating. Paul could perhaps lose his job or even face criminal charges if Quinn chose to come forward and tell the truth about what motivated the violence against Rashad.
He also faces sacrificing the close friendship with Gazullo over the Rashad incident, which disturbs and angers Quinn to his core. He witnessed first hand that Rashad’s treatment was not fair and might be racially motivated. Quinn is inspired by the anti-police brutality movement and knows he should probably stand with them. The reason Quinn does not stand up with Rashad is because he has a hard time voicing his opinion, as illustrated when he asks, “What did we really gain by talking about this – Paul, Rashad. What happened – digging it up and making everyone look like shit?”. Ultimately he puts the t-shirt on that shows where he stands. He makes this clear when he says, “Well, stop lying.
That’s what I wanted to tell those people. Stop lying. Stop denying. That’s why I was marching. Nothing was going to change unless we did something about it.” He realizes the only way he can change the court case is if he vocalizes his opinions and lets everyone know how he is feeling instead of holding it in. This experiences changes Quinn Collins’s personality for the better and makes him communicate his thoughts and opinions with others.
In Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns the character Mariam lives in a small poor town called Gul Daman and every week her father visits her. She looks forward to his visits and thinks he is a good man and is fascinated with how her father lives his life. On the other hand, her mother says her father is an evil man who can’t be trusted. Mariam does not want to believe this and is bored of her restrictive life cooking and cleaning. She then decides to sneak out of the house and go to her father’s mansion, is rejected by him, and returns home to discover her mother has killed herself.
From this point on Mariam does not trust anyone and is always suspicious when someone does something nice after she is betrayed by her father. Her mother says many statements that Mariam goes back to and forms a lot of Mariam’s ideology. Her mother says, “Learn this now and learn this well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman.” this quote is very true in Afghan society where women do not have rights or attend school, are treated like property and have forced marriages.
This quote also shows how Rasheed uses Mariam as a scapegoat for hardships in his life. Nana also says another saying that Mariam takes to heart: “A man’s heart is a wretched, wretched thing, Mariam. It isn’t like a mother’s womb. It won’t bleed, it won’t stretch to make room for you.” This shows that women are constantly forced into situations they have to adjust and adapt to, no matter how painful it may seem.
Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun is a very orderly man. He goes to work on time every day has almost never called in sick and is very loyal and respectful to the workers in his painting company. He never wants to take breaks or go on vacations that are far away and has a hard time relaxing without thinking about work. His wife Kathy wants to go on a vacation and begs for years. Kathy finally has enough and packs up the kids to go on a trip to Florida.
When invited to join by his daughter, he decides to stay home and put all his focus into work instead. When the hurricane is reported on the news, he dismisses it by saying, “Nothing’s going to happen. People are making a big deal for no reason.” Zeitoun is so obsessed with work he makes irrational decisions like this. Even though he gets multiple warnings from his brother, family and children he wants to stay at work. He does not feel like anything in his life is as important as work. He thinks his life is so insignificant that the best he can do is his small part in society.
Zeitoun saves an elderly couple on a boat, “Zeitoun was invigorated. He had never felt such urgency and purpose.” When Zeitoun realizes that he could be saving people’s lives, he feels like a higher power is calling to him, even comparing himself to a prophet and sometimes believing he is hearing God. Previously, Zeitoun was very accountable for tasks and always felt that it was his duty to be a good worker for his family, but when he realizes there could be something more than just work he gets very egotistical thinking about himself.
Even though he is saving strangers, he ignores his wife and family who are worried for him. He is trying to play hero and clearly enjoys rowing his canoe and saving people’s lives. After the hurricane he is more self-centered and is not thinking about working for the people above him as the government has clearly failed him when he is put in jail instead he is self-serving himself.
The characters of Quinn, Mariam and Zeitoun are all transformed and become outliers from these experiences. Quinn expresses his opinions more, which makes him an aberration in his family. Instead of looking for more and trying to increase happiness and things in her life, Mariam is just accepting and adapting. Zeitoun is now self-centered, instead of trying to get up the ranks in society. To summarize, all characters go through a metamorphosis from these experiences and gain entirely new character traits.