In Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, grown-up Amir’s overwhelming sense of guilt can be traced back to his treatment of his childhood friend, Hassan. Amir was a silent bystander to Hassan’s rape in an alley in Kabul when they were children.
However, what makes Amir’s guilt even greater is that it was not only his cowardice but also his resentment of Hassan, which stopped him from intervening as bullies assaulted his friend. A child himself, Amir is unable to process that his intense jealousy of Hassan is a direct consequence of his father’s praising Hassan for what bookish Amir is not: brave, resourceful, and athletic. When Hasan’s bravery fails to protect him from violence, Amir feels vindicated at Hassan’s emasculation. These feelings are not explicitly expressed in the novel, but the subtext to Amir’s behavior is clear.
Worse, in the wake of the rape, Amir continues to treat Hassan horribly. Hassan now begins to remind Amir of his own cowardice, and Amir wants nothing more than for Hassan to disappear, along with his guilt. He tries to frame Hassan for theft so Baba, his father, can send him away. Though Baba forgives Hassan, Hassan's proud father, Ali, well aware of Amir’s role in the sequence of events, leaves the home with his son anyway. Soon after, Baba and Amir flee Kabul for the United States.
As Amir grows up, he realizes the full import of his actions. His guilt at betraying selfless, loyal Hassan becomes entwined with his guilt about his racist and class-driven attitudes towards Hassan. Hassan was a Hazra, an ethnic minority community in Afghanistan, and the son of a household servant, both of which realities made Amir ashamed to have him for a best friend. As Amir himself is now a part of a small minority, his renewed experience of class and race informs his guilt about his past.
Guilt of such enormity can only be atoned for through a trial by fire. Thus, Amir must return to the same war-torn Afghanistan he fled along with his father; except the Afghanistan of his adulthood is far worse than his childhood self could have imagined. Amir has to make the hazardous trip to rescue Sohrab, Hassan’s orphaned young son, who is in the clutches of the Taliban.
After his father’s death, Amir learns that Hassan was actually Baba’s son, a fact which adds even more pathos to their shared past. In a way, atoning for his actions is also Amir’s way of reclaiming his own lost, child-like self, since in betraying Hassan, he also betrayed his own innocence. Therefore, Amir risks his life and rescues traumatized Sohrab from an intensely dangerous situation, bringing him to America and adopting him. Amir redeems himself, and through Sohrab, reclaims Hassan, as well as his own lost authentic self.