In The Kite Runner, how do Amir and Hassan represent the divisions in Afghan society, and how do these divisions affect the courses their lives take?
Amir and Hassan are born into two different Afghani ethnic groups and social classes, and these divisions between them lead to the tragic end of their friendship. Two boys who would otherwise have been lifelong friends are torn apart because of prejudices toward the Afghani minority group, the Hazaras.
Amir and his father Baba are upper class citizens and part of the ethnic majority, the Pashtuns. Hassan and his father Ali, on the other hand, are part of the ethnic minority group, the Hazaras. As such, they are discriminated against and not allowed an education. They are considered a servant class. Ali was adopted by Baba's family when Ali and Baba were children, after Ali's parents were killed. However, as a Hazara, Ali was still inferior to the family and became their servant since he could not be taken in and treated as equal. Ali remains a loyal servant to Baba for decades, and then his son Hassan also becomes a servant, specifically to Amir.
Although Amir and Hassan grow up together and "fed from the same breasts," "took [their] first steps on the same lawn in the same yard," and "under the same roof . . . spoke [their] first words," the divisions in class and ethnicity drive a wedge between them (11). Part of this is a result of social propriety and expectations: Pashtuns are not "supposed to" be friends with Hazaras or treat them as equals. Another result of the ethnic and class divisions is internalized racism and prejudice. This seems to be what affects Amir most when it comes to his actions (or lack of action) against Hassan.
Amir is a sensitive child, and some might even say weak. He cannot easily stand up for himself or his friend Hassan, so when Assef, the neighborhood bully, challenges Amir about why he thinks of Hassan as his friend, Amir cannot do the noble thing and claim Hassan and their relationship. Instead, he thinks to himself, "But he's not my friend! . . . He's my servant!" (41) When Amir feels that Hassan has some sort of upper hand on him, his internalized superiority kicks in. For example, when Hassan points out a plot hole in Amir's story, Amir thinks, "What does he know, that illiterate Hazara? He'll never be anything but a cook. How dare he criticize you?" (34). This voice inside Amir's head speaks the ugly truth of internalized racism and sets the stage for the tragic scene of Hassan's assault in chapter 7.
After Amir and Hassan win the kite fighting tournament, a moment that should be one of pure joy and relief (Amir is desperate to win the tournament to please his father), Hassan goes to run the kite and ends up cornered in an alley by Assef and his two friends. The friends hold Hassan down while Assef sexually assaults Hassan. Amir finds them in the alley but watches from afar, not intervening to help his friend. When Amir decides to run away, he considers his superiority over Hassan: "He was just a Hazara, wasn't he?" (77) This is what Amir considers the real reason he abandons Hassan, rather than his fear of being physically hurt by Assef. Amir's prejudice against Hassan, whom he should treat as a best friend and a brother, leads to tragic consequences that then alter the course of their relationship forever. Amir's guilt leads him to frame Hassan for theft, which then results in Ali and Hassan choosing to leave the house, despite Baba's offer of forgiveness. Later, as an adult, Hassan is killed by the Taliban for refusing to leave the same house, where he has been invited to live by Rahim Khan after Baba and Amir go to America. The Taliban do not believe a Hazara could live in such a nice house. The prejudices against Hazaras eventually lead to Hassan's murder and mean that Amir can never apologize or ask forgiveness of Hassan; he can only seek his redemption through caring for Sohrab, Hassan's son, a Hazara boy.
Amir is a Pashtun, which is the ruling majority ethnic group in Afghanistan, while Hassan is an oppressed Hazara. Hazaras are a Shiite ethnic group living in the predominately Sunni country of Afghanistan. As a minority, Hazaras are persecuted and marginalized throughout Afghanistan and occupy a lower social class than Pashtuns. Despite being close friends and half-brothers, Amir and Hassan live drastically different lives throughout the novel. Amir has access to education and the finer things in life, while Hassan lives in poverty and is continually ridiculed by Pashtun citizens for being a Hazara. Also, Amir cannot openly express his affection for Hassan because of his society's standards and expectations. Socially, Hassan is below Amir and will never be considered his equal. This tension between the two characters is a great source of anxiety for Amir, who is critical of how he is perceived throughout society. Fortunately, Amir is able to flee Afghanistan and travel to America when the Russians invade. Amir's affluent Pashtun father has the resources to create a new life in America, while Hassan and Ali are forced to stay in Afghanistan. Hassan is eventually murdered by Taliban forces when they attempt to ethnically cleanse Afghanistan. Essentially, Amir is able to survive and live a fulfilling life because he is a wealthy Pashtun, while Hassan is unjustly murdered in the street because he is a poor Hazara.
Amir and Hassan characterize the difference between the haves and the have-nots in society. Amir has everything-house, education, books, and possessions. What he does not truly have is his father's attention and faith in religion. Hassan is the have-not in the Afghan society. His family has no social status. He lives in a mud hut and works as a servant along with his father in Amir's household. What Hassan has, a caring father (actually two of them) and faith in religion and his friend, gives him what Amir cannot have. Amir questions life, himself, his father, and even his loyal friend. His existence is constant turmoil and unhappiness. Hassan, on the other hand, faces life head on and deals with it. He has the faith to show him the way. Only when Amir comes to America and has nothing but hard work and the attention of his father and wife, does he find purpose in raising Hassan's abused child. Abused by the social class that Amir once belonged to.