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The Kite Runner | Chapter 22 | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 22 Amir mouths the words, "I'll be back." While Farid waits in the car Amir steps up to the house of the Taliban official.

After being frisked by armed guards Amir is led to an empty room, where he grows increasingly nervous, and thinks, "Nothing wrong with cowardice as long as it comes with prudence. But when a coward stops remembering who he is ... God help him."

The Taliban official arrives accompanied by two guards. He does not remove his sunglasses, and his shirt has bloodstains on it from the day's earlier execution. After motioning to a guard to rip off Amir's fake beard, he asks Amir if he enjoyed the show.

The Taliban brags about another show he'd put on, where he went door to door, calling for the men and boys, sweeping his machine gun around the room and leaving the dead bodies out for the dogs.

Then he asks about America, and threateningly informs Amir that abandoning one's homeland could be seen as treason, which is punishable by death. In response Amir says that he is only there for Sohrab.

A guard brings in a boy with a shaved head, mascara around his eyes, unnatural red on his cheeks, and bells strapped around his ankles. The resemblance to Hassan is unmistakably disorienting. Music fills the room, the men begin to clap and cheer, and Sohrab dances. Sohrab freezes in midspin when the music stops. The Taliban calls him over. Wrapping his arms around Sohrab the Taliban asks Amir, "Whatever happened to old Babalu, anyway?"

Amir realizes with horror that the man is Assef (he had used that nickname to make fun of Ali). Amir offers Assef money for Sohrab, but Assef replies that he doesn't need money. He tells Amir that he joined the Taliban because he had an epiphany when he was jailed by the communists (who were made up of the poor). When a beating helped a painful kidney stone to pass, he realized that God was on his side. And he is now on a mission to take out the garbage of Afghanistan.

Assef gives Amir permission to take Sohrab. They make it as far as the door before Assef says he didn't mean he could take Sohrab for free. To earn both his and Sohrab's freedom (the guards are now outside the door), Amir must fight Assef.

Assef reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pair of brass knuckles. The narrative does not go into a lot of detail about the fight, partly because Amir never fought anyone so he cannot put up much of a fight. What he remembers is being repeatedly hurled against the wall, feeling bones snapping and shattering, choking on his own teeth, and lying on the floor. Throughout Sohrab screams. At one point Amir starts laughing. The laughing hurts, especially since it angers Assef and makes him kick, punch, and scratch harder. Amir thinks that he will die at peace with himself.

But then he hears a thin voice say, "Please, no more." Blinking the blood away from his eyes Amir sees Sohrab pointing his slingshot at Assef's face. When Assef lunges at Sohrab the slingshot releases a brass ball (taken from the base of a table) that lands in Assef's eye. Sohrab grabs Amir's hand, helps him to his feet, and leads the way out. Leaning on Sohrab, Amir stumbles to the car, where he passes out.

Analysis

This chapter focuses on the most important turning point in Amir's adult life; it both contrasts and redeems the similar turning point in Amir's childhood. Even though Amir hesitates and wishes that Farid didn't want to wait in the car and that Baba were standing next to him, he swallows his flight instinct and finally stands up to oppression.

The line "I'll be back" is meant by Amir to reassure himself and Farid. It is also meant by the author to resonate with most readers, who would recognize the line from The Terminator films. The contrast between Amir and Arnold Schwarzenegger's characters and physiques could be humorous, but both the novel and film are seriously focused on traveling back to the past in order to change the future.

There are many connections and contrasts between details here and those in the past. The most notable one surrounds the slingshot. Earlier Hassan protected Amir by pointing a slingshot at Assef's eye; this threat was enough to convince Assef to back off temporarily, but it led to Assef getting his revenge later. Here Hassan's son Sohrab also points a slingshot at Assef, but only after Amir had already taken a beating for him. Since this threat causes Assef to lunge at him, the missile is fired. Thus Sohrab maims Assef to defend both his own and Amir's lives. This maiming could be seen as Sohrab punishing Assef for his sins against both father and son (just as Amir is atoning for both his and Baba's sins against Hassan and Ali).

Thematically both scenes emphasize that violence is not acceptable, but it must often be displayed or used to defend against more violence. Allegorically Assef represents the violent Taliban who crush people with their power (although he is portrayed as more insane and drug addicted) while Amir represents those with power who largely do nothing to help those in need—until he recognizes that avoiding this moral responsibility makes enjoyment of his own luxuries impossible. Thus the development of Amir's character could be the author's way of telling the rest of the world (in particular America) to stand up for Afghanistan.

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