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The Kite Runner | Chapter 23 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 23 opens fuzzily. Amir is in the hospital, fading in and out of consciousness. He dreams of fighting a bear and hears a list of his injuries that includes a split upper lip.

Farid and Sohrab arrive the next day. Amir introduces himself to Sohrab and thanks him for saving his life. Sohrab asks whether he's the Amir his father told him about, and Amir confirms. When Farid asks what happened between him and the Taliban, Amir responds, "Let's just say we both got what we deserved."

Farid hands him a letter from Rahim and leaves Sohrab with him. Amir tries to talk to Sohrab, but the boy shakes his head and sits quietly next to the bed. At some point Amir falls asleep and when he wakes up, Sohrab continues to quietly sit in the same spot until Farid returns to bring him to his home.

Alone Amir unfolds the letter that he had delayed reading. In it Rahim reveals that Hassan had told him what happened. He scolds Amir for what he did, but he also reminds him that he was just a troubled boy then. He recognizes that Amir suffered, and reminds him that "a man who has no conscience, no goodness, does not suffer."

While apologizing for lying all those years about Hassan's true parentage, Rahim also tries to explain Baba: "Your father was a man torn between two halves." Baba loved both his sons, but he could only openly acknowledge Amir. This made him feel guilty about denying Hassan his identity, so he treated Amir more harshly. Looking at Amir also made him feel guilty since his legitimate son represented "the riches he had inherited and the sin-with-impunity privileges that came with them." To relieve his guilt Baba not only treated Hassan as well as he could, but he also built an orphanage, fed the homeless, and supported his friends. Thus, according to Rahim, true redemption is "when guilt leads to good."

When Farid returns he unintentionally makes Amir cry by responding to a request for a favor with the line, "For you a thousand times over."

During the day Amir and Sohrab play cards—the same game that Amir used to play with Hassan. When Sohrab reveals that his father had told him that Amir was the best friend he ever had, Amir admits that he wasn't such a good friend to his father, but he could be a good friend to him. Sohrab flinches at Amir's touch, drops his cards, and walks to the window.

At night Amir dreams of Assef standing in the doorway of his hospital room, saying, "You nursed with him, but you're my twin."

Farid returns with the news that the American couple Rahim told him about does not exist.

Analysis

This chapter focuses on the idea of duality:

(1) Wrestling with a bear—Amir dreams of Baba wrestling a bear, but when Baba looks up Amir sees his own face. The timing of this scene is significant: it suggests that for Amir, the bear represents guilt. He bore that guilt all his life, and in finally getting the punishment he deserves he has conquered that guilt. The fact that Amir sees himself in Baba is also significant: this could suggest that the bear also represents cowardice. This is a weakness that Amir struggles with, that Baba did not like, and that led him to actions/inactions that led him to guilt. By actively stepping up and agreeing to fight Assef for Sohrab, Amir conquers his cowardice. Thus the duality here is within Amir: between the boy he was and the man Baba wants him to be.

(2) Split lip—Hassan was born with a harelip that later got surgically mended, while Amir was born with a normal lip that later gets split in a fight and needs surgical mending; aside from inheriting the same genes from Baba, they also now have similar scars. This physical connection also helps Amir to connect more emotionally with Hassan. Thus Amir and Hassan are not just bonded by blood but also by actions. As friends and brothers, they need each other to make themselves whole.

(3) Baba's two halves—Amir and Hassan are the two physical halves that Baba is torn between; but they also represent Baba's good and sinful sides. While Hassan is a product of his sin, Hassan represents the good half of Baba, not only because Hassan is good but also because Baba does a lot of good in order to make up for not being as good to Hassan as he should. In contrast while Amir is a product of a loving marriage, Amir represents the sinful side of Baba, not only because Amir is sinful but also because Baba believes that a lot of the sins that he and Amir commit are due to the wealth and privileges they enjoy. Thus in struggling against himself, Baba creates the struggle in Amir that splits him in half too.

While these examples mostly focus on the duality within one person, the novel also sets up many thematic dualities that are emphasized by different characters in their relationships with each other. One example is good versus evil. With its religious resonance, this is the most ancient and most commonly used duality (and many of the dualities within the novel are just variations of this).

Here Amir's dream about Assef suggests that they are both evil. But that is not the case. Assef represents evil, Hassan represents good, and Amir (and Baba) represents the struggle between good and evil. While Hassan is a much more developed and likable character than Assef, he is similarly one-sided. Thus while Hassan is memorable as a supporting character, he is neither complex nor conflicted enough to be a main character. This is partly due to the fact that conflict drives a story, but it could also suggest that most readers have natures that identify with a character like Amir.

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