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The Kite Runner | Chapter 21 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 21 opens with Amir and Farid driving away from the orphanage. During the ride through a haze of dust, Amir sees a dead body dangling from the end of a rope and two men haggling over an artificial leg. Thus he is surprised when they pass his district and sees that most of the houses are still in good shape. Farid informs Amir that the Taliban and most of the important people behind them (Arabs, Chechens, Pakistanis) live here now.

They arrive at Baba's house, which looks smaller, less splendid, and all wrong. The sight brings up many memories, especially of playing with Hassan. Farid honks the horn and tells him that forgetting would be easier because nothing he remembers has survived. But Amir responds, "I don't want to forget anymore."

The next day at the soccer stadium Taliban soldiers roam the aisles and whip any fan who cheers too loudly. At halftime two trucks drive on to the field. They stop at the goalposts, where two holes have been dug. A woman in a burqa and a blindfolded man and woman are forced into the holes so that they are buried up to their chests. While a mullah recites a prayer Amir recalls his father saying, "God help us all if Afghanistan ever falls into their hands."

After the prayer the mullah's voice booms with pronouncements that include "We are here today to carry out justice" and "God says that every sinner must be punished in a manner befitting his sin." Through a combination of rhetorical questions and exclamations, the mullah reveals that the man and woman, through their sin of adultery, have thrown stones at the windows of God's house; thus they must be punished by being stoned.

A Taliban official emerges and greets the crowd by turning slowly in a full circle. Then he walks to a pile of stones, picks one up, shows it to the crowd, and hurls it at the man in the hole. He repeats this until there are two mangled, bloodied corpses. With the execution over and its debris mostly cleared away the two teams return to the field for the second half.

Farid tells one of the whip-carrying soldiers that they have business to discuss with the Taliban official. The soldier shouts to another soldier on the field, who runs to the goalposts where the Taliban official is chatting with the mullah. The Taliban official looks up and nods.

Analysis

The structure of this chapter emphasizes the idea that life does not always travel in a straightforward direction; one often needs to move backward in order to move forward. Because this is a novel written as a memoir, this idea applies to both the structure of the narrative and to the character Amir. Additionally the structure of the chapter mirrors the two halves of a soccer game.

The first half of the chapter focuses on Amir's childhood memories. Unlike Farid (who lost a father to gunfire and two daughters to a land mine and who cannot afford to linger in the past because it would make survival in Afghanistan impossible), Amir wants to remember the past in order to both atone and move on to his future in America. Amir's walk around his childhood home can be seen as a selfish luxury, especially since each minute he is there increases the chance of them being caught by the Taliban.

One notably developed memory focuses on a little turtle that Amir and Hassan found. Not only does this scene show how imaginative they were, but it also emphasizes their teamwork (this is supported by the frequent use of the pronoun "we"): together, they are great explorers, together they capture a giant prehistoric monster, and together they will show it to the world. By itself this memory is cute. But in the context of everything that has happened it is a sad and bitter indictment of both Amir and the world that made this teamwork impossible to maintain.

The second half of the chapter focuses on an execution. While Amir never enjoyed soccer as much as Baba did, he had fond memories of the stadium that are now ruined. The contrast between the two halves is as starkly chilling as the contrast between a soccer game and an execution. It is also chilling to see how the Taliban have turned an execution into a spectator sport. Lastly it is chilling to know that the executioner is the Taliban official who has custody of Sohrab.

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