Introductory Lecture and Objectives
A boy who doesn’t stand up for himself becomes a man who won’t stand up to anyone.
—Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
The Kite Runner tells the story of a man whose entire life has been shaped by a single morally abhorrent act in his childhood. As the story unfolds, the reader is drawn into the exotic world of Kabul, Afghanistan, in the 1970s, where a young boy, Amir, lives with his father in great prosperity in a lovely home. Their trusted house servants are Ali and his son, Hassan, who is roughly Amir’s age. Despite the complete inequity in their social positions and the fact that Amir is of respected Pashtu heritage, while Hassan is a Hazara, the boys are very close. Hassan is a loyal and devoted friend to Amir, but Amir is conflicted about their friendship. Desperate for his father’s affection and approval while growing up without them, Amir feels confusion, jealousy, and anger when his father treats Hassan with great kindness or gives him the special attention Amir seeks for himself. Plagued by fear and insecurity, Amir often torments Hassan, a boy who only loves and forgives; eventually he sacrifices the innocent Hassan to a group of young bullies. When they attack and rape Hassan, Amir does nothing to save him. He runs away.
This event shapes the rest of the narrative, as Amir attempts to free himself of the burden of his shame and guilt. Amir and his father eventually flee Afghanistan, which has been ravaged by the Soviets, to settle in California. Amir’s chance at redemption finally comes many years later, when his father’s best friend summons Amir to Pakistan. Hassan’s son is in an orphanage in Kabul, and Amir has the opportunity to rescue the boy from a terrible fate. Though redemption does not come easily, Amir finds the courage to do what is right. In saving Hassan’s son, Amir saves himself, as well.
In addition to being a deeply affecting novel about guilt, honor, friendship, redemption, and loyalty, The Kite Runner is also the story of a country in turmoil. Readers learn of the unimaginable violence and suffering that took place in Afghanistan over the course of several decades, the results of a bloodless coup, the invasion of the Soviets, the takeover of warring religious factions, and finally the arrival of the Taliban. A central theme in the novel, rape serves as a metaphor for the rape and plunder of a nation. Power—and the abuse of it—are present in individual lives and on the global stage. The Kite Runner is also a story of diaspora; refugees are forced to leave everything behind—their homes, their culture, and their social standing—and begin anew in a foreign land. As the Afghan immigrants struggle to gain a foothold in California, readers witness how they preserve what they can of their old lives, even as they are forced to assimilate and adapt in the new land.
Published in 2003, shortly after the attacks of September 11 when the world learned the word Taliban, The Kite Runner paints a sympathetic portrait of a little-known country and the plight of its people. The book clearly struck a chord with readers everywhere; it was on the New York Times best seller list for over five years, has been published in over fifty-five languages, and was made into a movie in 2007. Although students may not be able to relate to the specific setting and events in Kabul, the themes of loyalty, honor, goodness, generational conflict, betrayal, and redemption are universal and resonate in any time and place.
Few are spared from suffering in The Kite Runner, and the author refrains from offering up a simplistic happy ending. It is, nevertheless, a story of hope, redemption, and the power of the human spirit to endure and to call us to do what is honorable and right. When we fail to confront evil, we lose our humanity; figuratively, we stand by, watching as others are hurt or destroyed. Through the story of two boys, this haunting and compelling tale demonstrates the importance of preserving our humanity at all costs.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Define important terms—coup, Taliban, republic, and mullah—and understand the main historical events that took place in Afghanistan from the 1970s to the present.
2. Discuss the roles of honor, friendship, and loyalty in the novel.
3. Identify Amir’s central conflict and describe the nature of its resolution.
4. Explain how the novel’s story serves as a metaphor for Afghanistan.
5. Describe the difficulties of the immigrant experience and how refugees strive to overcome them.