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The Kite Runner | Study Guide

Khaled Hosseini

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The Kite Runner | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In The Kite Runner what factors complicate the relationship between Amir and Hassan?

Amir and Hassan's relationship is complicated by the fact that Hassan is Amir's servant. Even though Amir and Hassan have spent their entire childhoods together and play with each other every day, there are some differences that separate them. First they are different ethnicities: Amir is Pashtun and Hassan is Hazara. Pashtuns are Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, while Hazaras are a distinct minority population. In Afghanistan this difference puts Hassan in a lower social caste. Second they are of different branches of Islam. Amir is a Sunni Muslim and Hassan is a Shi'a Muslim. Since Shi'a Muslims are a religious minority, they have been discriminated against by the dominant Sunni Muslims for centuries. This difference creates a lot of discord and conflict in Afghanistan between religious groups, and Amir and Hassan's complicated relationship reflects much of that discord. Amir only knows what it is like to be a part of the dominant religion and ethnicity, and the culture reinforces his treatment of Hassan as a lower-caste servant. Hassan's ethnicity and religion ensure that he is forbidden from even aspiring to live an educated, wealthy life like Amir's. Amir often catches himself feeling tenderly toward Hassan, only to remind himself that they are not friends and that Hassan is merely his servant. Underlying these competing feelings is another emotion: jealousy. Although it would seem that Hassan should be jealous of Amir for his educated, affluent station in society, it is actually Amir who is jealous of Hassan because Hassan has a better relationship with his father, Ali.

How does Amir's relationship with Baba change over the course of The Kite Runner?

Amir's relationship with Baba changes over the course of the book from misunderstanding to mutual respect and admiration. Initially Baba is aloof and critical with Amir, who is shy and creative while Baba is confident and independent. Amir yearns for Baba's approval and affection, so much so that he seeks it at the expense of his friend Hassan's innocence, during a moment in his life that will haunt him forever. The tragic truth is that Baba would have been much more impressed with Amir if he had learned that Amir came to Hassan's defense. After they move to America Baba begins to respect Amir more, and before his death he is proud knowing that Amir has married well. However, Amir learns the secret that Baba kept—that Baba was also Hassan's father. This betrayal makes Amir realize that he and Baba are more alike than he had thought. They have both stolen irreplaceable things from Ali and Hassan—Baba stole from Amir and Hassan the experience of having a brother, and Amir stole Hassan's chance at an innocent future when he didn't come to his rescue in the alley. In Chapter 9 after Hassan falsely admits to stealing Amir's money, Amir realizes that "I was a liar, a cheat, and a thief." By this comparison of betrayals Amir and Baba are ironically both more alike than either had suspected.

In The Kite Runner how do physical afflictions and injuries reveal links among the characters?

The first physical affliction that the author refers to is Hassan's harelip. It is a physical distinction that sets him apart from Amir. Baba pays to fix Hassan's lip, which inspires unkind feelings in Amir—not only because Baba is paying attention to Hassan but also because now he and Hassan are more similar. The irony here is that neither Amir nor Hassan know that they are more alike than they think—they are half-brothers. Later in the novel Amir's lip is sliced by Assef in the same place as Hassan's harelip, which gives him a scar resembling the now-dead Hassan's. The scar links Amir and Hassan permanently, and it is a mirror of their familial tie as well. Amir's scar also carries the weight of a psychological penance for the pain he inflicted on Hassan when they were younger—Hassan endured a physical assault on Amir's behalf, and now Amir has endured one on Hassan's behalf. Another linked injury is the blinding of Assef by Hassan's son, Sohrab. Hassan once threatened Assef with his slingshot when Assef tried to bully him and Amir—a threat that may have influenced Assef's rape of Hassan. Years later while Assef is assaulting Amir, Sohrab intervenes by blinding Assef with a slingshot—fulfilling Hassan's long-ago threat. This injury ties Hassan and Sohrab together as Amir's protector, and it is symbolic of the traits of courage, bravery, and loyalty that both share.

How does Amir relate to the traditions and culture of Afghanistan throughout The Kite Runner?

Amir is born in Afghanistan and spends much of his childhood there, embracing its traditions and culture, such as kite fighting. However, Baba influences him to be a more liberal thinker and a critic of some of the more conservative Afghan traditions, particularly when it comes to interpreting religious beliefs. Baba's positions do not necessarily resonate with Amir as a child, but when the Taliban take over Afghanistan and the grown Amir sees the terror and devastation produced, he appreciates Baba's wisdom. Once Amir and Baba flee to the United States, Amir tries to adapt to American traditions and cultures, meaning that he leaves some of his Afghan traditions behind. It's not until he returns to Kabul to rescue Sohrab that he begins to re-embrace the culture and traditions of his childhood, attempting to integrate them into his new life with Sohrab by taking him kite running. This move away from and back toward the Afghan traditions of his childhood is symbolic of Amir's integrating his past with his present and future and also of healing his guilt regarding Hassan.

In Chapter 1 of The Kite Runner what does Amir mean when he says, "I became what I am today at the age of twelve"?

This statement, which opens the story, refers to the most important event in Amir's life. Immediately the importance of that event and Amir's resulting beliefs about himself are clearly framed, even though the reader does not know exactly what happened. Amir is saying here that he was changed at age 12 by his betrayal of Hassan in the alley, in a way that profoundly influences his development, propels his choices, and affects his relationships. In essence that day made Amir the man he is. Amir suffers from self-doubt and guilt largely caused by his inaction when Hassan is raped. His continued inaction defines much of his life that follows. His choices overshadow much of his relationship with Baba and destroy his friendship with Hassan—he doesn't reveal that he lied about Hassan stealing money, which results in Hassan having to leave. Yet it's clear that Amir abhors this trait in himself, which finally spurs him to become bolder, such as when he decides to become a writer despite Baba's disapproval and when he decides to rescue Sohrab.

In The Kite Runner what do Amir's cruelties toward Hassan, both large and small, reveal about both of their personalities?

Although Amir is fond of Hassan and spends most of his time with him, the nature of their close relationship often reveals the kind of friction that siblings experience (though neither of them know they are half-brothers). Amir's cruelties are often driven by jealousy and a desire to exert power over Hassan since he feels insignificant in his own relationship with Baba. Many of Amir's cruelties also seem to arise from his conflicting feelings about his and Hassan's other relationship as master and servant—it's been ingrained in their culture for Amir to see Hassan as "lesser" than he. Hassan's tolerance of Amir's cruelties seems to go beyond "knowing his place" in Afghan society—it also reveals that he is a kind and loyal person and cherishes his friendship with Amir. Amir and Hassan's relationship serves as an allegory for the conflict inherent in traditional Afghan culture that pits religious and ethnic groups against each other despite a common homeland and humanity. Their relationship illustrates that emotions and feelings compete with the external forces of culture.

In The Kite Runner how does Amir's relationship with Hassan echo Baba's relationship with Ali?

Baba's relationship with Ali is friendly yet marked by the divide of master and servant. Though Baba trusts Ali and clearly considers him to be a close member of the family, they cannot be called friends. In Chapter 4 Amir notes how "Ali and Baba grew up together as childhood playmates—at least until polio crippled Ali's leg—just like Hassan and I grew up a generation later." Baba tells them of all the fun and mischief they had, but Amir also realizes that "in none of his stories did Baba ever refer to Ali as his friend." This uneasiness in calling his servant a friend is also echoed in Amir's reluctance to label Hassan as his friend despite their closeness. Baba also betrays Ali by fathering Hassan, and keeps that fact a secret from both Hassan and Amir. Similarly Amir has a close relationship with Hassan, who is also his servant. This leads Amir to often have conflicting feelings about the nature of his relationship with Hassan, stopping short of calling him his friend. In addition Amir keeps secrets regarding Hassan, about witnessing his rape, and about the fact that Hassan didn't steal money. Yet both Baba and Amir treat Hassan and Ali according to the belief and customs that they were raised with. Even though Baba is more liberal in his beliefs and questioning of Afghan traditions, in many ways he is still a product of his culture, as is Amir.

In The Kite Runner why aren't Amir's attempts at forgetting his past with Hassan successful, and what does this inability reveal about his nature?

Amir's first instinct in dealing with his betrayal of Hassan is to push him away and forget about what happened. The source of this is Amir's unbearable guilt for not helping Hassan and for the anguish he feels at having to keep what he knows a secret. Yet the distance he tries to create backfires, only causing him more guilt when he frames Hassan for stealing money in the hope that Baba will send him away. When Hassan falsely admits to the crime, Amir realizes that he only feels more guilty. Even after Amir and Baba move to America, creating a physical and cultural distance, Amir can't forget Hassan because he has never been able to reconcile his betrayal and clear his conscience. Amir's attempts at finding both a physical and cultural distance from his memories of Hassan provide no relief for him, however, because he relives the betrayal constantly in his mind—it will follow him no matter how much distance he creates. This tension in Amir reveals that he is conflicted—though he wants to do good, he knows no other way to fix it than to try to forget it.

In The Kite Runner what role does jealousy play in Amir's life and decisions?

Jealousy plays a driving force in Amir's life and decisions. Amir is jealous of Baba, who is confident and independent, and this jealousy drives him to want to impress Baba at all costs. This drive ultimately causes him to sacrifice the innocence of Hassan, which has far-reaching repercussions for all of them. Amir is also often jealous of Hassan, who is loyal, kind, and honest in ways that Amir is not. This causes Amir to be cruel to Hassan at times and even to rationalize this cruelty. In Chapter 5 he even wishes that he, too, had a scar, "that would beget Baba's sympathy. It wasn't fair." Much of Amir's jealousy of Hassan has to do with yearning for all of Baba's attention. At times his jealousy keeps him from defending Hassan, such as when he remains silent when Hassan is raped. As Amir grows up and his relationship with Baba evolves, jealousy plays less of a factor in driving his decisions. This evolution runs parallel to Amir learning to stand up for himself and what he believes in, such as when he tells Baba of his plans to become a writer despite knowing that it disappoints him. Amir's need to impress Baba dwindles as he comes more into his own and grows more confident. Ultimately it paves the way to his decision to rescue Sohrab.

In The Kite Runner what impact does Rahim's story about almost being married have on Amir?

Rahim's story about almost marrying a Hazara woman has a significant impact on Amir. Rahim serves as a substitute father (or even mother) figure for Amir, and so Rahim is one of the few people in Amir's life who has a great deal of influence on his moral stance. Rahim helps Amir develop a moral conscience. He tries to guide Amir into making the right decisions, the ones he is too afraid of. Rahim is ultimately successful in this guidance in a way that Baba never was, perhaps because Rahim seems to understand Amir in a way that Baba does not. Since Amir struggles over his feelings of support and friendship for Hassan, Rahim's story lets Amir know that a person he respects was able to stand up for his beliefs and relationships as best he could, despite facing death threats from his family. Even though Rahim did not marry the Hazara woman, his story shows that he sees the Hazara as equals, which is a powerful lesson for Amir. By seeing a mentor and role model make brave decisions, and knowing that Rahim believes he is capable of doing the same, Amir is finally able to stand up for what is right.

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