Divisions of Afghan Society in “The Kite Runner”
In The Kite Runner, first Hosseini’s published novel, a variety of themes is highlighted, but the author calls it a love story. However, this novel is not a traditional love story, as it tells the story of love between two friends who also carry out the social roles of master and servant. Besides, this is the story about omission and commission and their influence on the friendship. Additionally, it is the story of altruistic love and loyalty that survives despite all the factors tearing it apart. What is even more, The Kite Runner is also the story of love between son and father, child and parent, wife and husband (Stuhr 25). Thus, The Kite Runner describes a broad range of complicated relationships and intense emotions, but the storyline about the friendship between Hassan and Amir is central, that is why it should be given special attention.
Hosseini’s novel takes place across continents and generations, providing fresh a look at the culture and country of Afghanistan, thus offering a deep social and historical analysis of Afghan society (Stuhr 25). The novel makes Amir and Hassan the main characters, as they move the events of the story forward (Graves). The two main characters seem to be exceedingly similar, as they are one year apart in age, have the common interests, and enjoy spending time together, growing up inseparably despite the differences in social status (Graves).
Though Amir and Hassan seem to be very similar, their divisions in Afghan society make a significant impact on their daily lives. Amir is the son of the wealthy and respected community leader Baba, while Hassan is the son of Baba’s servant Ali. Baba’s wife died at the birth of Amir while Hassan’s mother joined the gypsies and ran off five days after Hassan was born. Thus, life was never the same for any of them. Terror, invasion, and revolution changed Kabul forever, leading to changes in the lives of both main characters (Graves).
The novel symbolically begins and ends in San Francisco. At the very beginning of the story, Amir appears as an educated citizen, writer, and family man living with his wife in San Francisco. His boyhood in Afghanistan seems to be too far from his contemporary living. However, the only one phone call makes Amir recall his memories of childhood in Kabul, relations with Hassan, and the life-changing events that were the reason for this phone call (Stuhr 25).
In this particular part of the novel, Amir describes Kabul where children can roam the fields and streets with no fear of landmines, where movies are attended, and kites are flown (Stuhr 25). Amir had such memories because he had a life full of material comforts, unlike Hassan, who suffered, being a minority group member. In particular, Amir is Pashtun and Sunni, the representative of the dominant religious sect and ethnicity. On the contrary, Hassan is Shi’a and Hazara, the member of the minority religious sect and the most discriminated ethnic group (Stuhr 24). In result of this division of Afghan society, the lives of Hassan and Amir were significantly different.
Amir’s character has several similarities with Hosseini, who wrote this novel thanks to his memories of Kabul and Afghan society. Hosseini’s father served in the diplomatic corps of Afghan society and received political asylum in the U.S., that is why the family got a chance to settle in the Los Angeles area (Graves). Just like the author, Amir and his father Baba also escaped to America. Though the old man could not cope with the new world, Amir encountered no difficulties in the integration due to being a representative of a dominant caste (Graves).
As Amir is the narrator of the novel, the readers perceive everything from his perspective. Since the very beginning, they learn that Amir cannot forgive himself for the betrayal of his childhood friend Hassan, that is why Amir’s vision of the past is overwhelmed by remorse and guilt. Amir illustrates Hassan as a saint, selfless, patient, loyal, loving, athletic, and intelligent friend (Stuhr 25). However, the fact of Hassan’s servitude influenced both Hassan’s attitude toward Amir and Amir’s toward Hassan. When Assef expresses disgust toward Hassan because of his ethnicity, Amir indicates that Hassan is not a friend of him, but a servant (Graves). Such an attitude shows how vital the caste system was for the division of Afghan society. Though Amir heartily loved Hassan, he played with him only when no one else was around (Stuhr 25). It all in combination resulted in Hassan’s deep devotion to Amir on the one hand, and Amir’s jealousy, insecurity, and the idea of caste on the other hand. In consequence of it, Amir falsely accused Hassan of theft, forcing the honest servant to leave Baba (Graves).
Having returned to Kabul twenty years later to save the son of Hassan, Amir sees the horrors in the country of his youth and reevaluates the mistakes made in the childhood. The challenges encountered in the past and the present finally help Hassan to reveal his feelings of guilt and find the emotional balance (Stuhr 25).
In this way, The Kite Runner is an unconventional story of love and betrayal between two friends, Amir and Hassan. Despite spending childhood years together and having the same interests, the boys are different, and this difference is caused predominantly by the social marginalization of the Afghan society. While Amir is Sunni, Pashtun, and the son of a wealthy authority Baba, Hassan is a servant, Shi’a, and Hazara. The significant impact of the differences in their status becomes evident when Amir enacts the guiltiness for his inability to protect Hassan from the brutality of Amir’s friend (Jefferess 392). Ultimately, Amir’s mistakes lead to the exile of Hassan and Ali from the household, what becomes a real challenge both for Amir and Hassan.
Having moved to the United States and became a successful novelist, Amir did not reach a western ideal of happiness that consisted of marriage, a consumer lifestyle, middle-class privilege, and a nuclear family, because he could not have children with his wife Soraya (Jefferess 392). Consequently, Amir got a strong desire to help Hassan’s son Sohrab and rescue him from the evil Assef, who was also Hassan’s rapist. Amir’s act of self-sacrifice is not marked by heroism but by the sincere and deep willingness to devote his own life for rescuing the young child, who is a stranger and an intimate person at the same time. Having rescued Hassan’s son and returned with him to the U.S., Amir reached the western ideal of happiness and ultimately found the emotional balance he has long been searching for (Jefferess 392).
In such a way, Amir’s and Hassan’s divisions in Afghan society assigned their destinations in life. Being a member of a privileged ethnic group and religious sect, Amir treated Hassan as his servant, not a friend, due to the idea of the caste system that was penetrating his mind. Consequently, Amir reached his ideal of happiness and left the feeling of guilt far behind, while Amir suffered all his life and ultimately died. The prevalence of the caste system in Afghan society destroyed Hassan’s and Amir’s chances to enjoy their lives to the full extent. Thus, this novel provides the readers with a lesson on the unimportance of material values and the eternity of spiritual ones.
Graves, Nancy Barclay. “Two Perspectives On Afghanistan.” Army, vol 56, no. 6, 2006. Accessed 25 August 2017.
Jefferess, David. “To Be Good (Again): The Kite Runneras Allegory Of Global Ethics.” Journal Of Postcolonial Writing, vol 45, no. 4, 2009, pp. 389-400. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/17449850903273572. Accessed 25 August 2017.
Stuhr, Rebecca. Reading Khaled Hosseini. Santa Barbara, California, Greenwood Press, 2009. Accessed 25 August 2017.
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