The Kite Runner Themes
by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner book cover
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The Kite Runner Themes

The main themes in The Kite Runner are fathers and sons, the presence of the past, and atonement and redemption.

  • Fathers and sons: Amir has a complicated relationship with his father, who he learns was also Hassan’s biological father. Eventually, Amir becomes an adoptive father to Hassan’s son.
  • The presence of the past: Amir is haunted by his childhood memories, especially by his betrayal of Hassan. In returning to Afghanistan, he is finally able to reckon with the past.
  • Atonement and redemption: Amir’s desire to find redemption and atone for his mistakes motivates him to risk his life in order to rescue Sohrab.

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Themes

Fathers and Sons

The complex relationship between fathers and sons is an overarching force, shaping Amir’s actions throughout the novel. Amir is constantly driven to seek his father’s favor but often feels shut out of his father’s world. He finds more of a father figure in Baba’s friend Rahim Khan, who encourages his love of writing. It is also Rahim Khan who reveals the truth about Hassan’s parentage, enabling Amir to fully understand the past and come to terms with reality. Baba’s philosophy, including his belief that the only sin is that of theft, acts as a blueprint for much of Amir’s life, blinding him to the reality of Hassan’s parentage and his father’s affair.

Learning the truth about Baba angers Amir because Baba had insisted on the abhorrence of “robb[ing] . . . children of a father,” yet Baba not only robbed Hassan of the knowledge of his parentage but also stole Amir’s right to a brother.

The event at the heart of The Kite Runner, the kite tournament, is also shaped by Amir’s desire to make Baba proud. His singular focus on winning the tournament is motivated by a need to be accepted so that his “life as a ghost in this house would finally be over.” When Amir wins the tournament, he finally sees evidence of his father’s pride, and it is partially this longing to retain his father’s admiration that stops Amir from intervening when Hassan is raped. Baba’s relationship with Amir remains problematic because it is always contingent on Amir’s achievements.

Baba feels that there is something “lacking” in Amir, as Amir appears to be utterly unlike Baba and is often lost in a world of books and stories. While Baba may feel shame that his legitimate son does not resemble him, his illegitimate son, Hassan, is perhaps more like Baba. Amir’s stark differences to his father therefore threaten to expose Baba’s infidelity. Rahim Khan tells Baba that “Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors.” But this is precisely Baba’s wish, and its impossibility is the cause of the tension in his relationship with Amir.

Later in the novel, Amir realizes that Baba carried shame with him his whole life and projected this onto Amir, which impacted Amir’s sense of self. If Amir had admitted to witnessing Hassan’s rape and doing nothing, he would have admitted to being as his father views him: lacking courage and conviction.

The insidious pattern of behavior between Amir and Baba is in sharp contrast to the relationship between Hassan and his son, Sohrab. Sohrab spends time playing with his son and appreciates his son’s individuality. When Amir invites Sohrab into his own family unit following Hassan’s death, the cycle of lies and deceit is ended. Amir admits openly that his nephew is a Hazara and that Hassan was the result of an affair between Baba and Sanaubar. By bringing Sohrab into his family, Amir also has the opportunity to become a father and begin to heal the wounds of his past. 

The Presence of the Past

History and the past are constantly intruding on the present in The Kite Runner. In the opening chapter, Amir reflects on how the events of his past have defined him, as he remains haunted by the memory of the “deserted alleyway.” Amir admits that you cannot “bury” the past, as it always “claws its way...

(The entire section is 1,276 words.)