Maria Elena Caballero-Robb
Maria Elena Caballero-Robb earned her Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She works in publishing and teaches courses in U.S. literature and culture and composition. In this essay, Caballero-Robb interprets Hosseini's novel The Kite Runner as a work that intertwines the private and public realms of experience.
Perhaps what garnered Hosseini's first novel, The Kite Runner, so much early praise, aside from the political relevance of its subject matter when the book was published in 2003, is its successful intertwining of the personal and the political. The novel has an ambitious agenda: to sketch the maturation of its protagonist from a callow boy beguiled by mythical stories of heroes and to portray the political situation of contemporary Afghanistan. The novel begins to show how the personal and the political affect one another through the peculiar relationship between Amir and Hassan. Indeed, James O'Brien, in his review in the Times Literary Supplement, argues, "this muddled, unbalanced and ultimately tragic relationship" between the privileged Amir and the servant Hassan "lies at the heart of The Kite Runner and echoes the betrayals and power shifts that begin to shape the country shortly after the story begins." Through the course of the novel, Amir's personal quest takes him on a decades-long journey from his birth country to the United States and finally back to his country of origin. In passing through this transforming crucible, Amir not only atones for past personal failings but also embraces a hopeful ideal of citizenship capable of upholding principles of liberty and human rights even in the face of repressive, fascist systems.
In the first several chapters, the novel's action revolves around the relationship between Amir and his friend and servant Hassan, and Amir's constant attempts to earn the respect and love of his father, Baba. Amir describes Hassan as a wise innocent, incapable of deceit, yet uncannily perceptive. Hassan's character and unschooled intelligence are apparent in his complete loyalty to Amir and his ability to perceive things about Amir that not even Amir is aware of: "Hassan couldn't read a first-grade textbook, but he could read me plenty." Indeed, critic Melissa Katsoulis points out in her review in the Times (London), "Though Hassan cannot read or write, he loves to hear Amir read aloud and is perfectly capable of pointing out the gaping hole in Amir's first attempt at plotting a story." Hassan is also admired for his physical talents—a faultless aim with a slingshot and the ability to predict where a loose kite will drift "as if he had some sort of inner compass." Baba's unusually high regard for his son's servant makes Amir, who cannot seem to please his father, jealous. When Baba pays for an operation to correct Hassan's harelip and dotes on the boy during his recovery, Amir thinks, "I wished I too had some kind of scar that would beget Baba's sympathy. It wasn't fair. Hassan hadn't done anything to earn Baba's affections; he'd just been born with that stupid harelip." Meanwhile, Amir is acutely aware that there is little understanding between himself and his father: "The least I could have done was to have had the decency to have turned out a little more like him." He senses that his father blames him for his mother's death in childbirth; and to compound matters, he overhears his father remark to Rahim Khan, "If I hadn't seen the doctor pull him out of my wife with my own eyes, I'd never believe he's my son."
While the dynamics of these relationships remain central to the story, in later chapters, the political events outside the limits of the family circle propel the story's action. The first hint of this transition occurs when Amir and Hassan have an encounter with a violent older boy named Assef, who wants to persecute Hassan for being a Hazara. Assef, who believes Hitler was an ideal leader, tells Amir that he is betraying his Pashtun heritage by treating a Hazara boy as his close friend. While Assef's bigotry outrages Amir, Amir is unable to think of a response. Ultimately, Hassan stands up to Assef and his lackeys; when Assef and his lackeys threaten to hurt the two younger boys, it is Hassan, not Amir, who saves them both by using his slingshot to drive the bullies away.
The boys'second encounter with Assef is much less victorious. Ironically, the encounter occurs immediately after Amir wins the kite-running tournament, which Amir believes is his chance finally to live up to his father's expectations:
There was no other viable option. I was going to win, and I was going to run that last kite. Then I'd bring it home and show it to Baba. Show him once and for all that his son was worthy. Then maybe my life as a ghost in this house would finally be over. I let myself dream: I imagined conversation and laughter over dinner instead of silence broken only by the clinking of the silverware and the occasional grunt.
The novel's frequent reference to the Afghan heroic tale, the Shahnammah, implicitly...
(The entire section is 2096 words.)