A boy who doesn’t stand up for himself becomes a man who won’t stand up to anyone.
—Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
The Kite Runner tells the story of a man whose entire life has been shaped by a single morally abhorrent act in his childhood. As the story unfolds, the reader is drawn into the exotic world of Kabul, Afghanistan, in the 1970s, where a young boy, Amir, lives with his father in great prosperity in a lovely home. Their trusted house servants are Ali and his son, Hassan, who is roughly Amir’s age. Despite the complete inequity in their social positions and the fact that Amir is of respected Pashtu heritage, while Hassan is a Hazara, the boys are very close. Hassan is a loyal and devoted friend to Amir, but Amir is conflicted about their friendship. Desperate for his father’s affection and approval while growing up without them, Amir feels confusion, jealousy, and anger when his father treats Hassan with great kindness or gives him the special attention Amir seeks for himself. Plagued by fear and insecurity, Amir often torments Hassan, a boy who only loves and forgives; eventually he sacrifices the innocent Hassan to a group of young bullies. When they attack and rape Hassan, Amir does nothing to save him. He runs away.
This event shapes the rest of the narrative, as Amir attempts to free himself of the burden of his shame and guilt. Amir and his father eventually flee Afghanistan, which has been ravaged by the Soviets, to settle in California. Amir’s chance at redemption finally comes many years later, when his father’s best friend summons Amir to Pakistan. Hassan’s son is in an orphanage in Kabul, and Amir has the opportunity to rescue the boy from a terrible fate. Though redemption does not come easily, Amir finds the courage to do what is right. In saving Hassan’s son, Amir saves himself, as well.
In addition to being a deeply affecting novel about guilt, honor, friendship, redemption, and loyalty, The Kite Runner is also the story of a country in turmoil. Readers learn of the unimaginable violence and suffering that took place in Afghanistan over the course of several decades, the results of a bloodless coup, the invasion of the Soviets, the takeover of warring religious factions, and finally the arrival of the Taliban. A central theme in the novel, rape serves as a metaphor for the rape and plunder of a nation. Power—and the abuse of it—are present in individual lives and on the global stage. The Kite Runner is also a story of diaspora; refugees are forced to leave everything behind—their homes, their culture, and their social standing—and begin anew in a foreign land. As the Afghan immigrants struggle to gain a foothold in California, readers witness how they preserve what they can of their old lives, even as they are forced to assimilate and adapt in the new land.
Published in 2003, shortly after the attacks of September 11 when the world learned the word Taliban, The Kite Runner paints a sympathetic portrait of a little-known country and the plight of its people. The book clearly struck a chord with readers everywhere; it was on the New York Times best seller list for over five years, has been published in over fifty-five languages, and was made into a movie in 2007. Although students may not be able to relate to the specific setting and events in Kabul, the themes of loyalty, honor, goodness, generational conflict, betrayal, and redemption are universal and resonate in any time and place.
Few are spared from suffering in The Kite Runner, and the author refrains from offering up a simplistic happy ending. It is, nevertheless, a story of hope, redemption, and the power of the human spirit to endure and to call us to do what is honorable and right. When we fail to confront evil, we lose our humanity; figuratively, we stand by, watching as others are hurt or destroyed. Through the story of two boys, this haunting and compelling tale demonstrates the importance of preserving our humanity at all costs.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Define important terms—coup, Taliban, republic, and mullah—and understand the main historical events that took place in Afghanistan from the 1970s to the present.
2. Discuss the roles of honor, friendship, and loyalty in the novel.
3. Identify Amir’s central conflict and describe the nature of its resolution.
4. Explain how the novel’s story serves as a metaphor for Afghanistan.
5. Describe the difficulties of the immigrant experience and how refugees strive to overcome them.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Study Guide
• The Study Guide is organized for a chapter-by-chapter study of the novel. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each chapter and to acquaint them generally with the chapter’s content.
• Before chapter Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
• Study Guide vocabulary lists include words from the novel that vary in difficulty.
1. The vocabulary lists for each chapter are sufficiently comprehensive so that shorter lists of vocabulary words can be constructed from them.
2. Working from the lesson plan’s chapter vocabulary lists, the teacher also may construct vocabulary studies for individual students, choosing specific words from each chapter that are most appropriate for them.
The discussion questions vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some questions require higher levels of critical thinking; others engage students with less challenging inquiry.
2. Individual discussion questions may be assigned to students working in pairs or in small study groups; their contributions may then be added to a whole-class discussion.
Test questions also vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some multiple-choice questions address the factual content of the novel; others require students to employ critical thinking skills, such as analyzing; comparing and contrasting; and drawing inferences.
2. The teacher may select specific multiple-choice questions and one or more essay questions to assess an individual student’s understanding of the novel.
3. The essay portion of the test appears on a separate page so that it may be omitted altogether in testing.
Before students read through the book, point out to them the following themes, or universal ideas, that will be addressed in the novel:
- The past, tradition, and heritage
- Racial purity
- Power and abuse of power
- Religion and faith
- Coming of age
- Immigration and starting anew
- Fathers and sons, ancestry
Talk with your students about how a motif is a recurring pattern or repeated action, element, or idea in a book. As they read, have them pay attention to the following motifs:
- Gardens, trees, plant life
- Kites and kite fighting
- Writing and the power of story
A symbol is a concrete object or place that has significance in a literary work because it communicates an idea. Have your students talk about how the author uses the following symbols and look for other symbols on their own:
- The pomegranate tree
- Cleft lip
- The sacrificial lamb
1. Consider Rahim Khan’s statement: “A man who has no conscience, no goodness, does not suffer.” What does he mean? How is this meant to make Amir feel better about himself? Which characters in the novel have a conscience? Which do not?
2. Compare and contrast how Amir and Hassan feel about each other and the reasons they feel differently.
3. Consider rape as a metaphor for abuse of power. Identify several instances of abuse that take place on both a personal and global level in the novel, and explain how each instance reveals a struggle for power.
4. The principle of honor is a central theme. Explain how honor is interpreted by the various characters, including Farid, Wahid, Rahim Khan, Baba, Amir, and Ali.
5. How are America and Afghanistan portrayed as being different? What does Baba miss most when he moves to the United States, and what makes the transition difficult for him? How is Amir’s experience different? How do their roles change?
6. Hassan and Amir have very different outlooks on life and on the future. What are some of the influences that might have made their perceptions of the future so different?
7. There is a notable absence of women in the novel. Why might that be the case? How are the few women who do appear in the novel portrayed?
8. Amir often describes the state of the gardens, trees, plant life, the pomegranate tree, and rose bushes in various places throughout the novel. What do they represent? For what are they a metaphor?
9. Kites and kite fighting are a central motif in the novel. What Afghan principles are associated with kite fighting? Why do you think the author chose kites to play such an important role?
10. As a child, Amir is the kite fighter, while Hassan is the kite runner. However, at the end of the novel, Amir becomes the runner. What is the significance of this change in role?
11. What do you consider to be the novel’s central message? Is it ultimately a story of hope or despair?
12. What does Rahim Khan say to Amir to convince him to rescue Sohrab from Kabul? Why would that make a difference? Discuss how Amir’s feelings about his father change in light of Rahim Khan’s news.
13. What are essential Afghan qualities presented in the novel?
14. If Sohrab represents Afghanistan, what is the literary parallel for Assef? What does Sohrab’s hint of a smile at the end of the novel suggest about the future of Afghanistan?
15. What elements of the novel make it a classic coming-of-age story?
16. Courage is defined in the novel through the actions of various characters. What constitutes courage? Identify and discuss specific instances in the novel when Baba, Amir, and Hassan are courageous.
17. Discuss betrayal and redemption in the context of the novel and whether or not complete redemption is possible.
antidote: a remedy to relieve, prevent, or counteract something
appendage: a body part connected to the torso of a body; a limb
cleft lip: a birth defect characterized by a split in the upper lip
congenital: existing at or dating from birth
ethnic: of or relating to races or large groups of people who have the same customs, religion, origin, etc.
frigid: cold; not displaying emotions
garrulous: chatty, talkative
harelipped: an offensive term for having a cleft lip
Hazara: a Mongoloid people of Afghanistan
impish: mischievous, rascally, playful
Mongoloid: relating to an ethnic group native to Asia and...
(The entire section is 705 words.)
caracul hat: a hat made from the fur of Qaraqul breed of sheep
chortle: chuckle, laugh, snigger
liability: a danger or burden to a person or group of people
lore: traditional knowledge or belief
mullah: an educated Muslim trained in religious law and doctrine and usually holding an official post
opportune: favorable, well-timed
valiant: courageous, heroic, brave
1. What is Baba like?
The narrator describes him as a “force of nature.” He is physically tall, and legend has it that he earned the scars on his back wrestling a...
(The entire section is 637 words.)
amends: compensation, restitution
immersed: engrossed, absorbed
irony: the use of words that mean the opposite of what one really intends; an inconsistency between an actual and expected result of events (often with humorous tone)
nemesis: an enemy
oblivious: completely unaware
vehemently: strongly, fervently, passionately
1. How do Baba and Ali know each other? How is their relationship similar to Hassan and Amir’s?
Ali was adopted by Baba’s father, and Baba and Ali grew up together. Though they...
(The entire section is 519 words.)
coup: a revolution, a rebellion
impassive: unemotional, expressionless
ingrained: deep-rooted, imbedded
Khan: a title given to rulers and officials in central Asia, Afghanistan, and certain other Muslim countries
monarchy: a form of government with a sovereign (often a king or queen) at the head
preceded: came before
refrained: held back
rejuvenation: renewal; revival with energy and sense of purpose
republic: a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives
sociopath: someone who behaves in a dangerous or violent way towards other people and does not feel guilty about such behavior
(The entire section is 589 words.)
abhor: to loathe
hovel: a small, dirty house; a hut
viable: possible, feasible
1. Why does Amir love winter?
Winter is kite-fighting season in Kabul, a long-standing tradition that ends with an important tournament. Kite-fighting brings Amir temporarily closer to his father, as well; it is “the one paper-thin slice of intersection between their different spheres of existence.”
2. Why do Amir and Hassan laugh when the Hindi child describes kite-fighting contests in India?
What does it reveal about Amir and Hassan’s attitude? The Hindi child...
(The entire section is 596 words.)
adjacent: next to
aspired: hoped, wanted to become
curtly: abruptly, shortly
imminent: about to happen, forthcoming
indignation: resentment, anger
intoxicating: capable of producing excitement or elation (often in regard to alcohol)
redemption: being saved from sin, error, or evil
salvation: deliverance from sin, harm, ruin, or loss
unabashedly: without hesitation or concern
vindication: the state of being justified against an accusation or censure
1. Describe Hassan’s dream. What meaning does it impart?
In Hassan’s dream, Amir takes the lead and Hassan...
(The entire section is 748 words.)
chasm: a gap, a gulf, a great distance between two things (literal or metaphoric distance)
customary: traditional, the way things are normally done
deceived: to be betrayed or misled
insomniac: someone who is unable to sleep
interlude: a break in a period of time
periphery: outer limits or boundaries
pregnant: to be full of a certain quality (figurative)
riptide: a strong current of water that flows away from a shore
testily: irritably, grouchily
1. In what ways has Amir’s relationship with his father changed since the kite tournament? What has remained...
(The entire section is 912 words.)
blood money: money paid in compensation to the family of someone who has been killed; money paid to a hired killer
1. What birthday present does Baba give to Amir? How does Amir feel about it?
Amir receives a Schwinn Stingray bicycle from his father. Although he is one of the few boys in the city lucky enough to own such a fancy bicycle, Amir derives no pleasure from it. He is incapable of feeling joy or happiness and only feels worse when his father is kind to him.
2. Why is Amir so indifferent to all of his presents?
Amir describes his gifts as “blood...
(The entire section is 385 words.)
array: an assortment, a collection
bludgeoned: beaten, bashed, slammed
encapsulated: summarized, condensed
precipitous: very steep, perpendicular
retort: a reply (often angry or snappish)
rubble: debris, ruins, piles of stones and bricks
rueful: filled with regret
Shorawi: a reference to Russians of the former U.S.S.R
summation: a final part of an argument reviewing points made and expressing conclusions
1. Why are Amir and Baba in a truck?
Several years have passed, and the Soviet Union has invaded Afghanistan. Kabul has become a dangerous place full of warring...
(The entire section is 708 words.)
acrid: pungent, harsh
alleviated: lessened, lightened
belied: gave a false impression
harmonium: a keyboard instrument in which notes are produced by air driven through metal reeds by foot-operated bellows
recede: to withdraw, to retreat
smoldering: fiery, intense
1. Why does Baba get upset at the grocery store? How was shopping different in Afghanistan? What does this story reveal about Baba’s transition to the United States?
Mr. Nguyen, the shop owner, asks Amir’s father for identification when he writes a check. Baba takes it as a personal...
(The entire section is 605 words.)
adversary: an opponent
chastity: virginity, virtue in refraining from sex
demeanor: manner, facial expression
insinuation: an implication
laborious: difficult, strenuous
reticence: a reluctance to speak
sultan: a Muslim sovereign
tenets: principles, beliefs
vigil: a watch
1. Why is it so significant that Amir asks Soraya what she is reading?
By asking her a question, he is initiating the first real conversation between them and indicating his interest in her: “By Afghan standards, my question had been bold.”...
(The entire section is 478 words.)
ambivalent: uncertain, lacking enthusiasm
terse: abrupt, short
1. What theme prevails in the Afghan “giving word” ceremony? How is it developed through the words of Baba and the General?
The “giving word” ceremony highlights Afghans’ reverence for the past, for their heritage and traditions. Referring to Amir and Soraya’s traditional courtship, the General welcomes Amir by saying, “This is the right way—the Afghan way—to do it.” Baba’s speech refers to the “distinguished and reputable families and . . . proud lineage” of Soraya’s family. The General responds with a...
(The entire section is 849 words.)
cohorts: allies, partners
collateral damage: refers to inadvertent casualties and destruction of civilian areas during military actions
garrulous: chatty, talkative
incessant: without pause
nonchalantly: casually, indifferently
pragmatic: practical, realistic
protracted: prolonged, extended
soliloquies: monologues, speeches (often long) given by one person
1. How does Amir interpret Rahim Khan’s comment, “there is a way to be good again”?
Rahim Khan says to Amir, “There is a way to be good again.” Amir...
(The entire section is 713 words.)
presumptuous: arrogant, presuming
1. Why did Rahim Khan go in search of Hassan?
Rahim Khan admits to having been lonely in Kabul. He didn’t know anyone in the city anymore. He also needed help maintaining the house.
2. Who arrives at the gate of the house? Why? In what condition is she? What is ironic about her condition?
Hassan’s mother arrives at the gate to try to make amends with her son, to see if he is “as beautiful in the flesh as you are in my dreams.” Her face has been horribly mutilated with knife cuts, and she...
(The entire section is 314 words.)
oblivion: the state of being unaware of what is happening
unrequited: unreciprocated, one-sided
1. What is the significance of Hassan’s stance in the photo that Rahim Khan hands to Amir? Why would Amir notice it immediately?
Amir notes Hassan’s self-assured stance. He is entirely at ease, a physical manifestation of his clean conscience and pure state of mind. Hassan is content, satisfied, at peace with his life, and grateful for what he has. Amir, however, has never been at ease. He has been burdened by his past for years and has never known true peace of mind or satisfaction....
(The entire section is 617 words.)
animosity: strong hostility
apprehensively: nervously, fearfully
arduous: difficult, demanding
contemptuous: disrespectful, scornful
dilapidated: in a state of disrepair or ruin as a result of age or neglect (as a building or object)
dismissive: flippant, showing no concern
emaciated: extremely thin
empathy: understanding, sympathy, compassion
impregnated: filled, saturated
protruding: bulging, sticking out
ruminate: to ponder, to contemplate, to think over
1. Farid, the driver, comments, “It’s...
(The entire section is 609 words.)
benevolence: kindness, generosity
debris: wreckage, rubble
destitute: extremely poor
enunciating: saying or pronouncing clearly
morosely: grumpily, sullenly
mystic: noun a person who claims to have magical powers or abilities; adjective relating to magic or mysterious things
relic: a historical object, something from the past
stupefied: dazed, stunned
succulent: juicy, delicious
unadulterated: pure, untainted
warlord: a military commander exercising civil power through force
1. What specifically does Amir notice when he arrives in Kabul?...
(The entire section is 898 words.)
conjure: to summon, to call an image to mind
coy: pretending to be shy and modest in the hopes of being alluring
epiphany: an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being; a striking moment of realization
surreal: bizarre and unbelievable, marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream
1. What does Sohrab look like, and what is he asked to do when he enters the room? What message does the Talib official want to convey to Amir about Sohrab?
Amir notes that Sohrab looks very much like his father. He also sees that the child is...
(The entire section is 610 words.)
absolve: to set free from an obligation or the consequences of guilt
compounded: greatly increased
ruptured: broken apart, burst
1. What is the significance of Amir’s upper lip being split in two?
Amir is taking on the characteristics of Hassan, who had precisely the same scar on his upper lip after recovering from his surgery. Amir is beginning to become more like Hassan.
2. When Farid asks what happened, Amir answers, “Let’s just say we both got what we deserved.” Why does Amir believe this is true?
Assef lost his eye, a just punishment...
(The entire section is 427 words.)
ascertain: to determine
convulsed: shook, jerked
eligible: qualified to participate or be chosen
fabricated: made-up, invented
indecipherable: incomprehensible, beyond understanding
irrevocably: irreversibly, permanently
monosyllabic: consisting of only one syllable
nimbus: a luminous cloud or halo
oblivious: entirely unaware
persecution: oppression, harassment
uncensored: unrestricted, unsuppressed
1. What is on Sohrab’s mind while he’s sitting in front of the mosque?
Sohrab is worried about whether or not God will...
(The entire section is 625 words.)
forebodings: inner convictions of coming misfortune
impunity: an exemption or freedom from punishment, harm, or loss
minarets: tall and slender towers, typically part of a mosque
profusely: plentifully, abundantly, pouring forth liberally
relinquishment: a verbal act of renouncing a claim, a right, or a position
replete: full, complete
serpentine: winding, twisting
weary: tired, fatigued
1. How does Sohrab react to Amir when he wakes up in the hospital? Why?
Sohrab is cold and silent toward Amir, and his eyes are “lightless” and vacant. By...
(The entire section is 631 words.)
1. Who says to Amir, “There is a way to be good again”?
B. Rahim Khan
E. General Taheri
2. Where does Amir grow up?
A. in a shack in Kabul
B. in an orphanage in Peshawar
C. with Rahim Khan in Jalalabad
D. with his father in Fremont, California
E. in a beautiful home in Kabul
3. Hassan’s treatment of Amir could be described as
(The entire section is 1075 words.)
1. Amir and Baba’s relationship changes dramatically over the course of the novel. Describe the trajectory of their relationship and how it changes, even after Baba’s death. Would Amir’s father have been proud of him by the end of the novel? Why or why not?
When Amir is a baby, his first word is “Baba.” Symbolically, this is an apt choice because Amir goes on to spend his entire childhood trying to gain his father’s attention and approval. He sits outside his father’s study, wishing he could be included in his father’s “grown-up” conversations, and he is fiercely possessive of any time with him. Whenever his father suggests including Hassan in some way, Amir grows insecure and jealous....
(The entire section is 3310 words.)