The Kite Runner Analysis
- The Kite Runner is a bildungsroman, as it focuses on the growth and development of the narrator, Amir, from childhood to adulthood. Amir’s story involves an exploration of ideas of belonging, family, and redemption.
- Afghan history is interwoven throughout the narrative, from the overthrow of the monarchy to the communist takeover, the Soviet occupation, and the rise of the Taliban, to 9/11 and the subsequent US invasion.
- Amir’s sense of identity is shaken by his regrets, the revelations about his family, and his return to a homeland he no longer recognizes. Ultimately, he is able to redefine himself by confronting the past.
Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1279
The Kite Runner is a bildungsroman, as it follows the narrator, Amir, from boyhood to middle age, focusing on his psychological and moral growth as he seeks redemption for his past actions. Author Khaled Hosseini combines considerations of history and origin, identity, and family in order to interrogate questions of belonging and selfhood.
The novel takes place between 1975 and 2002, interweaving the social and political narrative, as devastation is wrought upon Afghanistan, with Amir’s personal narrative. At the beginning of the novel, Afghanistan is ruled by King Zahir, and its capital of Kabul exists in relative peace. Amir’s father, Baba, prospers, and Amir and his playmate, Hassan, spend their days climbing poplar trees in an idyllic neighborhood of Kabul.
1973 signals the disruption of peace, as guns “[light] the sky with silver,” and Afghanistan becomes a Republican state. In the years that follow, the fighting between various factions and the eventual invasion by the Soviet army results in “the death of Afghanistan” as Amir knew it. As Amir puts it, “There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood.” For children such as Sohrab, this is true. For Amir, his childhood memories up to the winter of 1975 are mostly carefree, but like his father, he becomes “split between two halves” as he tries to escape his past and effectively abandons the part of his identity that resided in Afghanistan.
Amir’s return to Afghanistan as an adult threatens to remove the residual parts of his identity that still think of Afghanistan as home. With the invasion of the Taliban, not only have the customs changed to the extent that one risks death for looking the Taliban in the eye, but the very landscape of Amir’s childhood has become unrecognizable. Where once there were lines of poplar trees, there are now “puffy and blue” corpses. As Amir takes in the sights of the broken and dilapidated city, the horrifying images of the present are interspersed with flashbacks to his childhood.
Amir recalls a memory of discovering a turtle with Hassan and pretending to be “daredevil explorers” as apple and cherry trees loomed like “skyscrapers.” Through recourse to his childhood imagination, he can block out some of the trauma of the present while grasping onto the vestiges of the Afghanistan of his childhood. Yet when Amir discovers that even his father’s orphanage has been destroyed and that the orphanages of Afghanistan now sell children into slavery to survive, it becomes clear that the identity that Amir associated with Afghanistan is now one that exists only in his memory.
The idea of a homeland remains central to the novel, and no character feels this more keenly than Baba. When Amir and Baba are forced to flee Afghanistan for the United States, Baba feels an intense rupture and loss. Although he had loved “the idea” of America, its fast-paced atmosphere and mistrustful attitude toward immigrants is a thousand miles away from the traditional customs of kinship and brotherhood that Baba is used to. Amir, in contrast, sees the move as an opportunity to forget the past and rebuild his life. For him, America represents liberty, as he can receive an education and begin to establish himself as a successful author. The fact that this new world is completely different from Kabul, in everything from architecture to attitude and customs, is the one thing that prevents the feeling of “A pair of steel hands” closing around his throat as he remembers his betrayal of Hassan.
Identity and belonging are also closely connected to the social status of each of the characters in The Kite Runner. Hassan and Ali find their identity in their servitude and their status as Hazaras, while Amir and Baba enjoy privilege and freedom because they are Pashtuns. As a child, Amir had learned in one of his mother’s old books about the persecution experienced by Hazaras and the “unspeakable violence” that Pashtuns had subjected them to in centuries gone by.
Even the name “Afghanistan” means “land of Pashtuns,” and the likes of Baba and Amir have enjoyed intellectual and material freedom that Hazaras can only imagine. Even though Baba treats Ali and Hassan as family in many ways, they are still servants, sleeping in a mud hut, and Amir even revels in contributing to Hassan’s continued illiteracy. Although Baba and Hassan in no way support the supremacist views of Assef, Assef’s discriminatory ideology contributes to the pervasiveness of Afghan prejudice against Hazaras. When Assef becomes a Taliban official, this again becomes a means of legitimizing the “culling” of Hazaras.
When Amir learns the truth about Hassan’s heritage—that Hassan was Amir’s half-brother and Baba’s son—the sense of self that he had cultivated is disrupted and displaced. The view that bloodline and legitimacy are closely connected to Afghan culture is raised by General Taheri when Amir and Soraya consider adoption, with the general insisting that he’s “not so sure it’s for us Afghans” and emphasizing that “blood is a powerful thing.” Taheri argues that he gave Baba his blessing for Amir to marry Soraya because Amir and Baba’s lineage is honorable, yet the whole narrative surrounding the apparent legitimacy and visibility of Baba’s lineage is ultimately false.
Although Amir initially expresses anger that his whole life has been a lie, understanding Hassan’s lineage frees him of much of the doubt and resentment he felt toward Baba during his childhood. It leads to an understanding that Baba did not love either of them less but simply loved them “differently,” and this sets Amir on the path to recognizing a different, broader definition of what identity and belonging truly mean.
In choosing to adopt Sohrab, Amir defies the general’s view that adoption is “not for” Afghans. He also finally embraces that which he had previously seen as “other,” Hazaras, as part of him. The defining moment comes when, while having dinner with the Taheris, the general refers to Sohrab as a “Hazara boy,” with the residual prejudice clear in the general’s tone. Despite feeling he has little in common with Sohrab, Amir’s insistence that the general never call Sohrab a “Hazara boy” again signifies that Amir has finally reached a point where he can stand up not only for himself, but even more importantly, for others. The bildungsroman typically charts a character’s moral journey, and in this moment, Amir shows that he has developed a strong moral compass and sense of character.
Sohrab also struggles with gaining a sense of belonging and identity after being torn from the safety of his childhood home and forced into a life of orphanhood and sexual abuse. His strongest desire is to return to life of innocence and security he had before his mother and father’s murder. The life that Amir and Soraya offer him is a haven of safety and stability, away from the inhumanity of the Taliban, but his sense of identity and belonging has been ravaged through the ruination of his childhood, which leaves him feeling so “full of sin” that he sees no place in this new world for himself.
The ending of The Kite Runner is purposely ambiguous, offering the reader a mere glimpse of new beginnings. But as families and cultures blend as the family attends an Afghan gathering in San Francisco, the reader is left with the sense that identity and belonging no longer refer to blood, race, or even country. Instead, a new kind of belonging can be found in an increased understanding of and empathy for other human beings, tentatively paving the way for a better world.