Who is more of a hero? Amir in The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini or Father Ralph in The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough?

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chadphares eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is difficult to look at a character in a book and say that he is all good or all bad. A good author will create characters with emotional complexities that make them human. This is very much true of Amir in The Kite Runner and Father Ralph in The Thorn Birds

There are elements to each character that make it difficult to qualify either of them as heroes, yet there are moments in which both display heroic tendencies.

One might say that Father Ralph starts more heroic, and finishes the book less so. Conversely, Amir is anything but a hero at the beginning of the book, but can be viewed in some ways as a hero by the time the book concludes.

In the case of Father Ralph, his initial attention to Meggie at the beginning of the book is unselfish and good-hearted. Though he is struck by the beauty of the 9-year-old Meggie he meets, he is very much her friend and protector during her childhood years. 

However, as Meggie gets older, Father Ralph's feelings for her become more intense. Despite the fact that the couple has a secret romantic relationship that begins when Meggie is 17 years old, Father Ralph's ambition to rise in the Catholic priesthood is stronger than his love for Meggie.

Though Father Ralph helps ensure that Meggie is financially taken care of, his inability to put his love for her (and her love for him) above his career ultimately defines him as a selfish participant in their relationship, rather than an equal partner.

With Amir in The Kite Runner, his jealousy is painfully obvious early in the story. While jealousy alone doesn't define a person, Amir allows the jealousy to consume him in a way that causes him to behave in ways that certainly aren't becoming of a hero. 

Perhaps the most dramatic example of this is when Amir sees the attack and subsequent rape of his friend and rival, Hassan, but does nothing about it. Later, in an effort to get Hassan removed from his beloved Baba's home, Amir hides money and a watch under Hassan's mattress, thus framing Hassan for a theft he didn't commit.

As Amir grows and matures, he feels guilt for the things he did in his younger years and wants to make restitution for the things he did earlier in life. He is able to do this in some ways after he rescues Hassan's son from an orphanage in Kabul. In doing so, he actually squares off against Assef—the young man who raped Hassan many years earlier. However, instead of being passive and cowardly, Amir shows his growth as a human in boldly and bravely standing up for Hassan's son.

Though neither Amir or Father Ralph are perfect characters, one could argue that Amir showed a greater desire to make restitution later in his life than Father Ralph, thus, perhaps, making Amir more of a hero.

Read the study guide:
The Thorn Birds

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