Kites are the most important symbol and motif in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (2003), but before we look how this symbol describes the relationships between its chief male characters, it’s helpful to consider the context of kite-flying in Afghanistan. Kites in Afghanistan and the rest of South Asia are diamond-shaped and made of the thinnest paper mounted on a twig cross. This makes the kites both especially buoyant as well as especially fragile, both of which qualities define the bonds between Amir and Hassan, and Amir and Baba, and Amir and Sohrab. Kite-flying is considered both an art (baazi) and a war (jung) in Afghanistan, but it is a war that used to unite all of the nation’s communities, including its minorities. Significantly, when the extremist Taliban group took over Afghanistan in 1996, they banned kite-flying.
Given this context, kites once represented childhood, solidarity, festivity, and Afghanistan's heyday for young Amir. Amir flew kites with Hassan, a member of the minority Hazara community, without bias. However, after Amir's failure to act while Hassan is raped by bullies, kites begin to represent Amir's own guilt and the loss of his childhood self. Hassan gets brutalized while “running,” or chasing, a kite Amir has won, and for Amir, the sight of the blue kite when he finds Hassan becomes irrevocably tangled with Hassan’s abuse. The erosion of the bond between Amir and Hassan coincides with the time of the Taliban’s rise and the loss of the freedom of Afghanistan itself.
With Baba, kites initially represent a “paper-thin” slice of common interest for Amir. In Kabul, Baba thinks Amir is too bookish and unathletic. Kite-flying, the only sport at which Amir excels, thus becomes a way for Amir to prove his masculinity to Baba and win his approval. However, after moving to the US with Baba, Amir does not fly kites anymore. Now, kites come to represent the cultural displacement of Amir and Baba. Like unmoored, lost kites, Baba and Amir are away from their beloved Afghanistan. Amir fears that Afghanistan is lost to him forever, much as his innocence, that last blue kite he flew with Hassan, and Hassan himself. For Baba, the sense of loss goes deeper than Amir knows. After Baba’s death, Amir learns his father has left behind another son in Kabul: Hassan.
Finally, kites represent healing and the recovery of a lost childhood in the relationship between Amir and Sohrab. To recover this innocence, Amir also has to return to Afghanistan and through a trial by fire and expiate his guilt about Hasan through rescuing his son. As if it were a fragile paper kite, Amir slowly and delicately builds a relationship with the traumatized Sohrab. In rehabilitating Sohrab, Amir rebuilds his own childhood. Significantly, the first time Amir flies a kite ever since he left Kabul is with Sohrab in a park in the US. Like a kite, Amir's relationship with Sohrab, whom he has adopted, soars. Things come full circle, and kites at last symbolize renewed hope for Afghanistan as well as the end of Amir’s emotional and cultural displacement.