Ali is the lifelong servant of Baba's family. Stricken with polio as a child, Ali endures the ridicule of the local boys for his pronounced limp and gnarled appearance. Steadfastly loyal to Baba and Amir, Ali lives with his only child Hassan in a modest servant's house on Baba's property. Ali was abandoned by his wife Sanaubar, who ran away soon after giving birth to Hassan. He belongs to the marginalized Hazara ethnic group, which historically resided in the mountainous Hazajarat region of Afghanistan. Despite this, Ali is a proud man who rejects dishonor and leaves Baba's household rather than live with the shame of his son being thought a thief.
Amir is the protagonist of The Kite Runner. Born into a privileged Pashtun family, Amir grows up in Kabul, Afghanistan raised by his father. His mother died in childbirth. As a boy, Amir is bookish, thoughtful, and unathletic. An introverted thinker, he prefers to write stories in his notebook rather than play soccer, much to his father's chagrin. Amir indulges in a recurrent fantasy of a warmer understanding with his father and is strongly motivated by the wish to make this fantasy a reality—ultimately with tragic results. Constantly trying to earn his father's approval, Amir struggles for every scrap of his father's attention. He becomes jealous when his father pays more attention to Hassan, the son of the family servant Ali. Still, Amir is close to his servant and playmate Hassan. They spend entire days together, especially in the wintertime, and carve their names in a tree behind the house. Torn between affection for his friend and his need for his father's love, Amir often takes advantage of Hassan's gullibility and illiteracy. Ironically, his propensity to trick Hassan—making up false stories he pretends to read out of his schoolbooks—inspires him to discover his future calling as a writer. After moving to the United States with his father, Amir becomes a student and later a writer. After marrying a young Afghan woman named Soraya Taheri, he publishes his first novel. However, his childhood betrayal of Hassan haunts his adult life, and he eventually travels back to Kabul in order to make things right.
An older bully who also comes from a privileged family, Assef is the tall, blond-haired son of a German mother and an Afghan father. Flanked by flunkies who assist him in his misdeeds, Assef is a racist with a fascistic streak. He admires Hitler, and even gives Amir a biography of Hitler as a birthday present. Assef believes Afghanistan should be "purified" of the Hazara ethnic group and kept for the dominant Pashtun ethnic group alone. After an encounter with Amir and Hassan in which Hassan forces Assef to retreat with his slingshot, Assef vows payback. Later, with the help of two flunkies, he gets his revenge by raping Hassan in an alley on the night of the annual kite-fighting contest. Assef frightens Amir with his apparently sadistic personality; even Assef's own parents are cowed in his presence as if they, too, fear him. Assef grows up to become a high-ranking official in the Taliban government, when he and Amir meet for a final time.
A stubborn, energetic man and a prosperous merchant, Amir's father is as well-respected for his commercial successes as for his philanthropic endeavors. A great host, Baba is given to grand gestures and excessive hospitality. After his wife died while giving birth to Amir, Baba finds it difficult to relate to a son who is so different from himself—introverted, tentative, and intellectual instead of outgoing, strong, and decisive. He observes with disgust that when Amir and Hassan get into scrapes with local boys, Hassan, not Amir, stands up to the bullies. Baba never remarried, preferring to surround himself with male friends and business associates in a house more often than not filled with guests. A Sunni Muslim and an ethical man, Baba counsels his son never to steal; yet he opposes organized religion and dismisses the warnings of the mullahs (religious teachers) who provide religious instruction in Amir's schools. Despite his stern attitude toward his son, he is a loving father. When Baba and Amir move to California, Baba works at a gas station so Amir can complete his schooling. He...
(The entire section is 1794 words.)