What does the kite symbolize in the relationships between Amir and Hassan, Amir and Baba, and Amir and Sohrab?

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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.

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Initially, kites symbolize a close friendship and bond between Amir and Hassan, who compete together and work as a team during the annual kite-fighting tournament. In this relationship, Amir possesses authority and power, which is symbolically represented by the fact that he owns the kite and controls it while it is flying. Hassan is also Amir's trusted kite-runner, who chases after the fallen kites, which is a subservient role that parallels his position as a marginalized Hazara. Amir and Hassan bond over kite-fighting and work in tandem to defeat their competition. Kites symbolically represent a bridge between their different worlds, as the two boys share a common goal and must rely on each other.

Kites symbolically represent Amir's hope of attaining Baba's respect and admiration. Growing up, Amir struggles to gain Baba's attention and affection because he lacks certain traits that Baba admires. For example, Baba values masculinity, athletics, and a competitive spirit. Unfortunately, Amir is a timid, unathletic intellectual who enjoys reading and writing. However, an affinity for kite-fighting is one thing Amir and Baba have in common. Amir hopes that winning the annual kite-fighting tournament will earn Baba's respect and significantly improve their relationship.

Kites symbolically represent a way to heal, repair, and develop Amir's relationship with Sohrab. After Amir saves Sohrab's life and brings him to America, Sohrab experiences severe depression and refrains from speaking altogether. Sohrab has endured unspeakable trauma, and it seems as if Amir will never have a relationship with him. However, kite-flying piques Sohrab's interest as he watches Amir fly a kite during a local Afghan gathering at the park. Sohrab feels inspired and begins running by Amir's side as he flies the kite. As Amir and Sohrab are flying the kite together, Hosseini suggests that their relationship will blossom.

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Good question.  Kites are, of course, an important motif for the the novel, and they often represent a connection between two characters throughout the book.

1. Amir and Hassan: Kites (at first) make up the positive elements of Amir and Hassan's relationship.  While Hassan loves hearing Amir's stories, and both boys greatly enjoy watching American movies together, kites are the only enjoyable activity that the boys participate in which forces them to be partners.  Even though in kite flying, Amir still has the upper hand (he owns the kite and gets all the glory), he must rely on Hassan.  In other activities, Amir doesn't need Hassan--he seems to tolerate him. Unfortunately, a kite eventually becomes a symbol of Hassan's worth to Amir.  Amir is willing to betray his friend for a kite, symbolizing ultimate disloyalty.

2. Amir and Baba--the narrator specifically states what the kite represents between Baba and him.  In Chapter 6, he acknowledges that:

"Baba and I lived in the same house, but in different spheres of existence. Kites were the one paper-thin slice of intersection between those two spheres" (49). 

For Amir, the kite represents his only chance to win Baba's approval--something he wants more than anything. Amir is not athletic, does not share Baba's interests, and seems to be unlike his father in every way.  The one area that Amir is gifted in--writing--does not impress Baba.  Thus, Amir sees winning the kite tournament and bringing back the last fallen kite as the sole way to please his father.

3. Amir and Sohrab--the kite connection between these two characters is a reversal of the first. Amir wants desperately to help a physically and psychologically bruised Sohrab; so he takes the more servile position in kite flying and runs the kite for Sohrab.  Sohrab is also the last "fallen kite." Just as Assef wanted the literal last kite earlier in the novel, he wants to claim Sohrab as his "victory prize." In each situation, Amir has an opportunity to fight for the last fallen kite and prove his honor.  With Sohrab, he makes the right choice.

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