Kite Runner Themes and Symbols

Themes

BETRAYAL 

The betrayal of a loyal friend by a wealthier, more corrupt “master” is a recurring motif in The Kite Runner, and Amir and Baba’s feelings of guilt for their betrayals drive much of the novel’s action.

The central betrayal comes when Amir watches and does nothing as Hassan, who has always stood up for Amir in the past, gets raped by Assef. Amir then worsens the betrayal by driving Ali and Hassan from the household. Later in the book, Amir learns that Baba also betrayed his own best friend and servant – Ali, Hassan’s father – by fathering a child (Hassan) with Ali’s wife Sanaubar. This knowledge comes as another kind of betrayal for Amir, who had always hero-worshipped Baba and is shocked to learn of his father’s flaws.

These low points in the two men’s lives create a sense of tension and guilt throughout the novel, but the betrayals of Amir and Baba also lead to quests for redemption that bring about some good in the end – as Baba leads a principled, charitable life, and Amir rescues Sohrab from Assef.

MEMORY AND GUILT

Throughout The Kite Runner, many characters are haunted by memories of the past. Amir is constantly troubled by his memory of Hassan’s rape and his own cowardice, and it is this memory that leads Amir to his final quest for redemption. Baba is also haunted by his past sins of adultery with Ali’s wife Sanaubar, and his memories cause him to be both strict with Amir and charitable and selfless with his work and money.

There is also another kind of memory in the novel, which is nostalgia for good things. Amir remembers his good times with Hassan as a child, and the old, beautiful Kabul before it was destroyed by war. These good memories bring sadness for what was lost, but also hope for what could be.

REDEMPTION

The quest for redemption makes up much of the novel’s plot, and expands as a theme to include both the personal and the political. Throughout his childhood, Amir’s greatest struggle was to redeem himself to Baba for “killing” his mother during childbirth, and for growing up a disappointing son who was unlike Baba himself. After Hassan’s rape, Amir spends the rest of his life trying to redeem himself for his betrayal of his loyal friend. This ultimately culminates in Amir’s return to Afghanistan and his attempts to save and adopt Hassan’s son Sohrab.

After Amir learns of Baba’s betrayal of Ali, Amir realizes that Baba was probably trying to redeem his adultery through his many charitable activities and strong principles in later life. Amir is also able to find a kind of redemption in his bloody fight with Assef (Hassan’s rapist), and his adoption of Sohrab.

Hosseini subtly connects these personal quests for redemption to Afghanistan itself. Despite its violent and corrupted past, Hosseini hopes for a redemption for his country someday.

 

VIOLENCE

Rape occurs several times in The Kite Runner as the ultimate act of violence and violation (short of murder) that drastically changes the lives of both the characters and the country.

The central act of the novel is Amir watching Hassan’s rape by Assef. There are more peripheral instances of rape as well – it is implied that Kamal, one of Hassan’s tormentors, was raped by soldiers, and Baba saves a woman from being raped by a Russian soldier. Both these examples link the theme with the “rape” of Afghanistan by violence and war, beginning with the external Russian oppressors, then the bloody in fighting of different Afghan groups, and then the brutal Taliban regime.

The rape of Sohrab is never shown, but it reflects Hassan’s horror and his role as a “sacrificial lamb”. With Sohrab, unlike Hassan, Amir is finally able to stand up to Assef and prevent more violence. As Baba told the young Amir, the only real crime is theft, and rape is a theft of safety and selfhood, the ultimate violence and violation, and in The Kite Runner this brutality is inflicted upon both individual characters and the country of Afghanistan.

 

POLITICS, RELIGION AND SOCIETY

The movements of history are constantly interfering with the private lives of characters in The Kite Runner. The Soviet War in Afghanistan interrupts Amir’s peaceful, privileged life and forces him and Baba to flee to America. After the fall of the USSR, Afghanistan continues to be ravaged by violence, and when Amir does finally return to find Sohrab, the Taliban regime rules the country with violent religious laws. It is the Taliban that give Assef an outlet for his sadistic tendencies, and it is this political state that facilitates Amir’s final meeting with Assef and his redemptive beating.

Hosseini also critiques the sexism and racism of Afghan society throughout the book. Ali and Hassan are Hazaras, an ethnic group that most Afghans (who are Pashtun) consider inferior, though Hosseini makes it clear that Hassan is Amir’s equal and in many ways morally and intellectually superior.

Assef tells Hassan: “But before you sacrifice yourself for him, think about this: Would he do the same for you? Have you ever wondered why he never includes you in games when he has guests? Why he only plays with you when no one else is around? I’ll tell you why, Hazara. Because to him, you’re nothing but an ugly pet…”

Although Baba is not a religious man, Islam also plays a part in their lives with various festivals occurring (sacrificing the lamb for Eid), and Islamic words and phrases used throughout the book. In . more recent times, Afghanistan has been ruled by the Taliban and their Islamic fundamentalism has seen girls banned from schools and society terrorised by the fundamentalists.

When Amir starts courting Soraya, observations are made about the double standard that Afghan society holds for women and men. Men are forgiven for being promiscuous or flirting, but women will be shamed and gossiped about for life.

Symbols in The Kite Runner

KITES

Kites are obviously an important image in The Kite Runner, and for Amir they act as symbols of both his childhood happiness and his betrayal of Hassan.The Afghan kites with their glass strings symbolize the dichotomy between beauty and violence, simultaneously representing Afghanistan and the half-brothers, Amir and Hassan. When he tries to remember something happy in the fuel truck, Amir immediately thinks of his carefree days flying kites with Hassan. After Hassan’s rape, however, kites become a reminder of Amir’s betrayal and guilt. In the novel’s political theme, kites represent Afghanistan’s “glory days” of the monarchy, as kite- flying is later banned by the Taliban. At the end of the book Amir flies a kite with Sohrab, symbolizing hope for redemption for both Amir’s sins and Afghanistan’s.

 

THE MONSTER IN THE LAKE

On the morning of the big kite- fighting tournament, Hassan tells Amir about a dream he had about the two of them at Lake Ghargha. In the dream there is a huge crowd of people who are all afraid to swim because there is supposedly a monster in the lake. Then Amir and Hassan jump into the lake and swim across, proving that there is no monster after all, and the people cheer and rename the lake “Lake of Amir and Hassan, Sultans of Kabul.” Amir wonders if Hassan invented the dream to cheer him up because of his nervousness, as Hassan later tells him “There’s no monster, just a beautiful day.” The tragedy of this is that later that same day Hassan gets raped by Assef.

There was a monster after all; Amir says:

“I thought about Hassan’s dream, the one about us swimming in the lake. There is no monster, he’d said, just water. Except he’d been wrong about that. There was a monster in the lake… I was that monster. “

THE CLEFT LIP

Hassan’s cleft lip is one of his most defining physical features, and a symbol of the economic and social disparity between Hassan and Amir, as Ali doesn’t have money to pay for the surgery to fix the lip. It is Baba who ends up paying for the surgery, where the cleft lip then becomes a symbol of Baba’s secret parental love for Hassan.

At the novel’s climax, Assef splits Amir’s lip in two with his brass knuckles, giving Amir a deformity much like Hassan’s. This symbolizes that Amir has become something like Hassan at last – brave and willing to stand up for someone else – and so Amir can find some redemption in the injury.

THE SACRIFICIAL LAMB

In Islam, lambs are slaughtered during times of festivity as a sacrifice. In the novel, Hassan becomes the sacrificial lamb in Amir’s quest to please his father.

THE SLINGSHOT

Representing two generations, the slingshot symbolizes both childhood as well as the need to stand up for what is right. Both Hassan and Sohrab use a slingshot to stop Assef, although Hassan only has to threaten to use his, and Sohrab actually inflicts pain.

THE POMEGRANATE TREE

Amir and Hassan spend most of their time outside, and they like to run and play. Amir spends lots of time reading and making up stories to tell Hassan. The pomegranate tree symbolises the nurturing and close friendship the boys have at the time.

There was a pomegranate tree near the entrance of the cemetery. One summer day, I used one of Ali’s kitchen knives to carve our names on it: ‘Amir and Hassan, the sultans of Kabul’. These words made it formal: The tree was ours.

The boys saw the tree as their special place and thought that nothing could take the friendship away from them. After Hassan’s sexual assault, the tree no longer holds the same meaning. Amir is wracked with guilt, which he carries for most of his life. He wants Hassan to show him how angry he is at him – he throws a pomegranate at him and wants him to throw it back at him, instead Hassan hits the pomegranate over his own head.

Posted by Tracey Hames

Teacher of English at Mount Aspiring College, Wanaka, New Zealand.

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